Twitter grabbed headlines this week after landing a National Football League pact to stream 10 “Thursday Night Football” games online next season. But it will not boost Twitter’s bottom line — nor will it help draw many more regular users to the social service, Wall Street analysts say.
The NFL’s “TNF” games on Twitter will pull in about 1.1 million viewers per game, according to an estimate by Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak. Twitter has rights to sell only local affiliate ad spots, or two to three minutes of advertising per hour, with the rest of the ads in the live streams coming from the CBS and NBC broadcasts. That would result in only $6 million in ad revenue, the analyst estimated.
“We see this likely being immaterial to Twitter ad revenue,” Nowak wrote.
Twitter reportedly is paying about $10 million for the over-the-top rights to the NFL games, meaning the deal may not end up being profitable.
But even if Twitter’s bigger goal is to address one of its major pain points — growing its user base — the NFL pact may not really help.
“We don’t think casual Internet users, especially casual female users, which is what Twitter struggles with, according to our surveys, will be attracted by the deal,” Pacific Crest analyst Evan Wilson wrote in research note.
Indeed, one broadcast TV exec expressed relief that Twitter had won the OTT deal — with the expectation that Twitter will probably not siphon many people away from watching “Thursday Night Football” on television. A more video-centric player like Amazon, Apple or Yahoo would have been more worrisome, the exec said.
Which raises the question: Who exactly is going to tune in to watch live NFL games on Twitter? By its very design, Twitter is a place for sharing short snippets of text, photos or video. It has never been a destination for viewing long-form video, and live NFL games go against the grain of its entire user experience.
Twitter’s average U.S. desktop user spends only 0.9 minutes per user per day with the service, and the average mobile user spends about 3 minutes, according to Nowak.
“Changing consumer behavior is tough… and watching a 3-4 hour long NFL game is a material change in current consumer behavior” on Twitter, he wrote. Meanwhile, the NFL games will be accessible to anyone, whether they have a Twitter account or not. “This is user friendly, but will not necessarily lead to more monthly active Twitter users,” Nowak noted.
On Thursday, Morgan Stanley cut estimates for Twitter’s monthly active user growth in 2016, from 5.2 million net adds to 3.4 million, citing lower user engagement trends. Most of those gains will come in the second half with the NFL games, the U.S. presidential election and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, and “an inability for these events to deliver” would depress MAU numbers even further, Nowak wrote.
Clearly, with the NFL deal, Twitter is hoping to attract a broader audience, both in the U.S. and abroad. The pact for NFL games is about “transforming the fan experience with football,” CEO Jack Dorsey said. But to accelerate its user growth, Twitter will need to do more than stream a handful of football games over a few weeks in this fall.