Home / Technology / With N.F.L. Deal, Twitter Live-Streams Its Ambitions

With N.F.L. Deal, Twitter Live-Streams Its Ambitions

For Twitter, the bet on live streaming is crucial to turning itself into a mainstream internet destination after other efforts have failed. Live streaming could finally broaden Twitter’s appeal, attracting an even wider audience. And perhaps more important, live events would be another way to sell video ads. If streaming football or basketball games on Twitter’s mobile apps and on desktop computers, along with other platforms, draws viewers, the company could sell more video ads, which typically command a premium.

Twitter has directed Mr. Noto, a former Goldman Sachs banker with deep ties to the sports media industry, to lead the charge on live streaming and has assigned an engineering team to create its streaming video player. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, considers streaming a critical component of the company’s focus on “live” experiences, along with Periscope, its app that allows smartphone users to live-stream video.

To bolster the effort, Twitter is in talks with Apple to bring the Twitter app to Apple TV, which would potentially let millions of Apple TV users watch the streaming N.F.L. games, according to the two people briefed on the discussions.

Apple and Twitter declined to comment.

Yet even as Twitter increases its live-streaming efforts, so are many of its rivals. Snapchat and Facebook are working on deals with media companies to acquire live-streaming rights to sporting events and entertainment; Instagram is also experimenting with live products. All of the companies are fiercely competing for video advertising dollars, as marketers slowly begin to shift money to online video promotions and away from television ads.


A depiction of what live streaming a Wimbledon event would look like on Twitter.

There are other hurdles to live streaming, especially from wary content providers who view the technology world with a dose of suspicion.

“We, as a television news organization, and the social media platforms are sort of sizing each other up, trying to figure out what the relationship is going to be,” said David Rhodes, president of CBS News, which recently teamed up with Twitter to live-stream the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. “Are they distributors? Are they promotional platforms? Are they creators in their own right?”

Twitter’s push on live streaming began in late 2014 when Dick Costolo, then the company’s chief executive, called Mr. Noto to discuss how to better use content — video, text or photos — to bring people to its service. Over the next 18 months, senior executives at the company debated options. Some batted around the idea of buying Mic, a news website aimed at young audiences, according to a person briefed on the conversations. Others were bullish on video.

Eventually, video won out. Mr. Noto said that introducing premium content like sports, politics and entertainment — the types of programming people often pay to see — would entice and retain more Twitter users.

The live-streaming bet is taking on greater importance as referral traffic from a deal made with Google last year — one in which Twitter posts would appear more prominently in Google search results — has not continued to grow over time, according to three people who asked for anonymity because the numbers were confidential. Twitter declined to comment on the traffic.

Even with competition from Snapchat and Facebook, Twitter has a foundation to attract more live-streaming deals. For years, Twitter forged relationships with networks and content owners through a program known as Amplify, in which Twitter worked with TV programmers to distribute short video clips that were preceded by ads sold by both Twitter and the content owners.

Last year, Twitter struck a multiyear deal with the N.F.L. to continue that Amplify relationship. In the new live-streaming deals with Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, all advertising will be sold by Twitter — as opposed to Twitter’s agreement with the N.F.L. Every deal is different, Mr. Noto said.

Twitter is also emphasizing its younger audience as a reason for marketers to advertise on live events. About 72 percent of the social media service’s user base is 18 to 34 years old, according to third-party data and company models, said two people who asked for anonymity because Twitter’s internal metrics were confidential.

That focus has in part enabled Twitter to land advertisers like Bank of America for the streaming N.F.L. games.

“Twitter really owns those moments that matter to everyone,” said Lou Paskalis, senior vice president for enterprise media planning at Bank of America. “As a marketer, what we can do with the context that Twitter creates is to join that shared moment.”

Mr. Noto cautioned that Twitter’s live-streaming strategy was still not fully formed and was just one part of a multipronged plan to remake the company. If live streaming works out, the plan is to make the live videos more easily accessible on Twitter — whether through notifications in the main timeline or through a mobile tab in Twitter’s app called Moments, said two people briefed on the company’s product plans.

But first comes the N.F.L. game next month between the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills, which will be live-streamed from Buffalo.

“Our opportunity is to use these familiar platforms that people understand, like streaming video, as a window into seeing everything else we really have available,” Mr. Noto said.

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