Twitter Takes the Field

For sports fans, September marks the beginning of fall’s TV-sports nirvana, as all four major pro sports leagues are in play, with college football also kicking off and the college-basketball season soon to ramp up.

Along with the multitude of national broadcast and cable networks, as well as regional sports services, airing live events this fall, a rookie live-event distributor will hit the field with the promise of providing fans with even more access to the sports content they want.

Social-media service Twitter will live-stream the Sept. 15 New York Jets-Buffalo Bills Thursday Night Football telecast, the first of 10 live Thursday night games Twitter will offer to both users and nonusers (i.e., you won’t need a Twitter handle to watch) during the 2016 National Football League season as part of a landmark multimillion-dollar carriage deal inked this past April.

While the NFL has thrown content passes to online platforms before — it streamed a regular-season game last year via Yahoo, and just last month announced plans to launch its own Snapchat Discover channel — the Twitter deal marks a new frontier for both the league and the platform.

The NFL joins Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League in streaming live games via Twitter. And though it doesn’t offer any National Basketball Association games, Twitter has inked a deal with the pro-hoops circuit to air two exclusive series once the 2016-17 regular season launches next month.

No one expects Twitter’s live streaming to cut into national or local viewership of NFL, MLB or NHL telecasts. It remains to be seen if consumers will even consider watching live video content on what has traditionally been a text and photo-based media site for news and information geeks.

But the Twitter deals represent more chipping away at cable’s live-sports value proposition. The more games sports fans can watch outside the traditional cable subscription package, the greater the potential they’ll switch content-delivery teams.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.