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Twitter Lands NFL ‘Thursday Night Football’ Streaming Deal

Social service to distribute 10 live game broadcasts from CBS, NBC on digital platforms worldwide

Twitter has clinched a deal with the National Football League to live-stream 10 “Thursday Night Football” broadcasts worldwide next season, the companies announced Tuesday.

Under the deal, the NFL has selected Twitter as its exclusive partner to deliver a live Internet-video stream of the regular-season games for free worldwide. Twitter will carry the 10 “Thursday Night Football” games broadcast by NBC and CBS, which also will be simulcast on NFL Network.

Twitter will provide free, live streaming video of “Thursday Night Football” without authentication on mobile phones, tablets, PCs and connected TVs. In addition to the live games, the partnership includes in-game highlights from “TNF” as well as pre-game live broadcasts on Twitter’s Periscope from players and teams before, during and after games.

Twitter won the deal with the NFL against a field of bidders that included Facebook, Verizon and Amazon. In an interview with Variety last month, Facebook VP of partnerships Dan Rose confirmed the social service was interested in the NFL games. But Facebook reportedly backed out because it did not want the games to carry advertising.

“Twitter is where live events unfold and is the right partner for the NFL as we take the latest step in serving fans around the world live NFL football,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “There is a massive amount of NFL-related conversation happening on Twitter during our games and, tapping into that audience, in addition to our viewers on broadcast and cable, will ensure ‘Thursday Night Football’ is seen on an unprecedented number of platforms this season.”

For Twitter, the goal is to drive up the number of users on the service — something it has been struggling with — with high-profile media content. “This is about transforming the fan experience with football,” CEO Jack Dorsey said. “People watch NFL games with Twitter today. Now they’ll be able to watch right on Twitter Thursday nights.”

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. Twitter will pay about $10 million for the OTT rights, less than the next highest bid of $15 million, according to multiple reports. After the announcement, Twitter’s investor-relations account tweeted: “In regard to the NFL deal, please note that all expense was contemplated in our FY’16 guidance given on our Q4’15 earnings call.”

Right now, Twitter is still looking at different ways to present the games, including with connected-TV hardware partners. The “TNF” games will be available in Twitter’s mobile app and on twitter.com, available to any user (including those who aren’t logged in to Twitter). In addition, the NFL games are expected to be available through any third-party site that can embed tweets.

The Twitter-NFL pact for “Thursday Night Football” builds on their previous partnership for the Twitter Amplify advertising program, which kicked off in 2013. Last summer they extended the partnership with a two-year deal under which sponsored video clips and other content will be tweeted to fans on a daily basis year-round.

The NFL was shopping over-the-top rights for the 2016-17 regular-season games in addition to the U.S. TV deals it had already secured, looking to slice up rights to its marquee live games even more finely.

CBS and NBC each will carry five “Thursday Night Football” games, while eight other games to be broadcast only on NFL Network will comprise Thursday night games, late-season Saturday match-ups and games played overseas. Those networks all have rights to stream the games online to U.S. pay-TV subscribers on an authenticated basis.

On Twitter, the NFL’s OTT streaming feeds will include about 50 ads sold by CBS and NBC, out of the approximately 70 that typically run in a single game, according to sources. Twitter has rights to sell the remaining inventory for a digital-only audience and may deliver ads targeted to specific markets.

Last season, Yahoo became the first digital distributor to deliver a free, global live stream of a regular season NFL game. The Oct. 25 match-up between Buffalo and Jacksonville garnered an audience of 15.2 million viewers who watched at least part of the live stream.

Meanwhile, for the 2016-17 NFL season, Verizon Wireless will continue to live-stream every game to U.S. subscribers on smartphones. Verizon was bidding for the “Thursday Night Football” OTT rights to bring those games to to its free Go90 mobile-video service.

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