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Twitter muscles in on live sports streaming
Twitter has recently made some high profile acquisitions of sports broadcasting rights as it seeks to re-invent its platform as a go-to destination for live sports programming.
Twitter has had a busy summer, signing deals with each of the “big four” US sports leagues (the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL)) to live-stream games, as well as partnerships with broadcasters such as Bloomberg Media, CBS News and Sky. Under its deal with Sky, Twitter will post goals and highlights from Sky’s coverage of the English Premier League as they happen.
So what has prompted this sudden push into the sports broadcasting market? It is well-documented that Twitter’s user growth has stagnated over the past year, and the company appears to be trying to re-invigorate itself by acquiring premium sports content. Although Twitter has had close links to major sports brands for a number of years, its recent moves into the live-streaming of sports events represent a significant strategic shift.
This year’s Wimbledon Championships represented another milestone for Twitter as coverage from the All England Club became its first live stream sports broadcast. Although reaction to the service was mixed – for example, some users commented that it was not clear how to access the relevant page from their main Twitter feed – a Twitter spokesperson was quick to emphasize that it was “an extremely early and incomplete test experience” and that they would be “making lots of improvements before we launch it in final form”. It seems as though Twitter used the Wimbledon coverage as a dry run ahead of the start of the 2016/17 NFL season in respect of which it has the streaming rights for 10 of the 16 Thursday night games.
Given that it is free to sign up for a Twitter account (and considering the substantial rights fees associated with the live broadcasting of professional sports), an interesting question is how Twitter is going to make money from its new strategy. The answer appears to be through advertising. According to reports, they have already done deals with major brands, including Sony Pictures, Bud Light and Bank of America, with a view to raising at least $50m through advertising packages.
Twitter’s decision to substantially invest in live sports programming will be music to the ears of rights holders and further demonstrates the value to media companies of having the exclusive rights to broadcast live coverage of the biggest sporting events.
Although Twitter’s initial foray into the live sports broadcasting market has focussed on the major US sports, it will be interesting to see if, in time, Twitter (or indeed other social networking platforms) begin to compete with the likes of Sky and BT Sport for the highly-coveted rights to show live Premier League football in the UK.
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