Thoughts on why the NFL picked Twitter to stream Thursday Night Football

Twitter is the surprise winner of the rights to stream 10 Thursday Night NFL football games this fall (NFL press release). Initially, I was surprised Amazon, Verizon, or Yahoo didn’t win, especially after it was reported they offered more. But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.

Re/Code quoted the NFL executive in charge of media deals as saying “This is about driving incremental consumption”. If we unpack that a little bit, I think we can understand what the NFL’s strategy was.

Verizon already owns exclusive rights to stream NFL games on mobile phones (Verizon mobile phones, that is, and only in the US), and their bid likely would have had the same restriction.

As large as Amazon may seem, they are a very US-centric company. Their on-demand video service is only available outside of the US in the UK, Germany, Austria, Japan, and soon India. Although Amazon reportedly would not have restricted the NFL games to Prime members, they would have minimal distribution outside of the US.

US viewers already have plenty of options to watch Thursday Night Football: CBS/NBC free with an antenna or paid with cable/satellite, CBS/NBC authenticated streaming, and free with a Verizon smartphone plan.However, the NFL was interested in the partner that could reach the largest number of incremental viewers, the vast majority of which are outside of the US. After Facebook dropped out of negotiations, Twitter was probably the best remaining option. They have a large international audience, a single main mobile app (in contrast to Yahoo’s multitude of properties and apps), and they are willing to stream the games to anyone without logging into their service. (Presumably, Twitter will have the rights to stream the games to smartphones outside of the US, but I have not seen any reporting on that.)

American football fans may be a little confused about how to watch the game come fall, but I believe the NFL used these negotiations to push their international ambitions. I’m just surprised the deal was only for the 10 games broadcast by CBS/NBC, and did not include the remaining games that will be broadcast by the NFL Network.