Early Tuesday morning, Twitter announced that it had won a bidding war to secure the streaming rights to 10 Thursday night NFL games.
Not a highlight reel, or a post-game show, but full, live NFL games. The games, which will also air on CBS at the same time, can be accessed by anyone around the world for free.
While the deal itself is great news for football fans, it's even more interesting when viewed as the first major experiment to see if branching out to new mediums can increase consumption of a program.
In other words, could this work for traditional television shows?
When it comes to TV, Twitter is one of the most integrated and communicative platforms that networks have latched onto for promotion and engagement. The "suggested hashtags" that float across the bottom of your screen when you watch a show has actually helped networks secure more native advertising for certain programs, according to data from the company.
Instant reactions to events that happen during an episode of a popular show, like The Walking Dead, spread like wildfire and are accessible to anyone.
Could this work for other television shows
But the biggest change Twitter brought to live television was reinvigorating the feeling that you were watching with a community. You could be sitting at home in your pajamas and watching The 100 alone, but you could tweet along with a certain hashtag and almost immediately be connected with thousands of other people who share your thoughts and concerns.
Television, more than any other entertainment providing medium, has largely benefited from Twitter and in turn, the social network has largely benefited from that realization.
For quite some time, it's felt like the natural progression would be to bring television to Twitter in some capacity, going beyond just providing a place for conversation, especially for live events.
How many of us turn to Twitter when we're out to check for constant updates on a game we couldn't be watching? Or, in turn, how many people turned to Twitter, for similar reasons, to find out who was going home on The Bachelor?
Twitter has created a world where those who can't watch a program live still can experience it in real time with others. Even those who don't mind having an episode of Game of Thrones ruined for them can usually find someone live tweeting it.
The question has always centered around the allowance of streaming from the networks, not whether it was possible. And while the deal was made between Twitter and the NFL to stream football games, it's the first step in seeing if Twitter is a viable and profitable option for networks to expand coverage in.
We know from countless studies done on this very subject that more people are cutting the cord and purchasing less television sets, instead choosing from the dozens of streaming options available to watch their shows on. More people are spending time online than they are watching TV and more are signing up for Twitter, Facebook and other social networks daily.
It's created a conundrum for network executives who aren't sure how to reach out to an audience that just isn't interested in their antiquated format. They've seen some growth with the integration of Twitter into their various series, but not to the extent they were hoping for. Ad sales may have increased slightly, but that hasn't stopped the migration of people under 35 from leaving the hardly enticing and costly package bundles.
But consider a network like The CW, whose shows are geared toward a socially active audience online. For this kind of a broadcaster, bringing a season premiere — or even the debut of a new series — to Twitter and allowing audiences to chance to watch it live and for free without the restriction of a cable subscription wouldn't be just innovative and smart. It also shows respect for and understanding of their core viewers.
The question has always centered around the allowance of streaming
I don't think we'll ever have a traditional network like ABC, NBC or CBS broadcast a popular series week after week on Twitter, but there's the potential to experiment with the social network and reach an audience that may otherwise not tune in one way or another.
We're not asking for every episode of Scandal to be streamed every Thursday night, but the premiere or the finale would be a pretty great start.
For now, the focus will be on sports, and that makes sense. It's easier to bypass the networks by reaching out to the leagues directly, it's easier to stream, and there's a guaranteed audience. CBS didn't spend $250 million securing the rights to Thursday night football because there might be an audience. NFL games routinely make the top 10 most watched list on TV week after week. Twitter understands this, too, and it makes the sport a perfect experiment project.
If other leagues, like FIFA and the NBA, were smart, they'd team up with a site like Twitter or Facebook and launch a similar experiment. The final game of the World Cup? A hot matchup between the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs? These are games people are live tweeting about, with quite a bit of enthusiasm, in general. Giving them the option to watch the game for free and live when they may not be able to otherwise is going to attract a big audience.
The question, and the biggest concern that most people are going to have ahead of the first game, is how Twitter plans to incorporate the games into its design.
People are only going to use this if it doesn't feel like a major inconvenience.
I use Tweetdeck when I'm working on my Macbook Air. It's my preferred application. The automatically refreshing feed seems less tedious than having to reload every time I want to see new tweets on Twitter's web client and the multiple columns make it easier to keep things organized.
Tweetdeck seems to be the perfect portal for a service like watching a game or television show because I can stream the program in one column and live tweet my thoughts in another without having to jump back and forth between pages. I can also see my mentions and respond to those without missing a second of whatever I'm watching, keeping the conversation going. All of which, I can only imagine, are very important aspects to live viewing for a company like Twitter.
How is this going to work with Twitter's web client? Will there be a separate screen that appears in one of the top or bottom corners so people can tweet along? Or will it be that you can't tweet along directly from your browser if you have the game going, but rather, you'd have to jump between pages? Maybe they'll make the games appear on an entirely separate page, and include tweets about the game underneath the screen. Still that raises the question: Will this be available on mobile?
People are only going to use this if it doesn't feel like a major inconvenience. It's why UX design has become so incredibly important to the success of just about any app, website or tool that people are going to engage with.
How is this going to work with Twitter's web client?
The success of this joint venture between Twitter and the NFL will succeed or fail based on how easy it is for people to use and how disruptive it is to their normal experience while using the service.
As Peter Kafka from our sister site Recode said, this isn't "OMFG" news, but it is thought provoking. It's an experiment and one of the biggest Twitter has ever taken on.
Television isn't a dying medium, but it is an ever changing one, and this is the next step. Whether it finds its home on Twitter, Facebook or whatever the next big social network is (sorry, Ello), streaming a couple of episodes from a series live is what people are going to want. Being able to do that while talking to others online at the same time is the icing on the cake.
This could fail magnificently, and we'll only know that once the games start streaming, but it could also be the next step in discovering how to bring television into a constantly evolving social ecosystem that constantly demands more.
It's an exciting time to be a fan of television. Things are about to get very interesting.