Tech Giants Compete to Stream NFL’s Thursday Night Football

Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter are vying for the rights to stream the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” games next season, say sources. Last year, Twitter won the bidding, paying $10 million to stream 10 games. The NFL will likely make its decision within the next month, and there’s a chance it may hint at its decision at its annual meeting in Phoenix this week. Live sports are a hot commodity and since the TV rights for nearly all of them are already locked up, “Thursday Night Football” streaming is even more valuable.

Recode notes that, “while the NFL deal is high profile, it’s tough to tell how valuable it actually is,” adding that “Twitter didn’t report a meaningful spike in user growth or revenue as a result of last year’s games.” With regard to scale, whereas Twitter’s average audience was “just a couple of hundred thousand viewers per game,” CBS’ average was “closer to 15 million viewers” for each “Thursday Night Football” game.

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The streams are also not exclusive, since “viewers can also watch the games on NBC or CBS, NFL Network and Verizon, which has mobile distribution rights.” Finally, says Recode, “Twitter was only allowed to sell a small percentage of the game’s overall ad inventory,” making this “an interesting deal, but not a huge one.”

Who will win this year’s bid? Facebook may make the most sense as a partner, says Recode, which notes that, “the company has all the same benefits of Twitter — a global audience, a social component, the ability to court advertisers — but on a much, much bigger scale,” without the “business drama” that can be associated with Twitter. But Facebook and the NFL weren’t able to make a deal a year ago, and Facebook is “just now starting to tinker with mid-stream video ads.”

Amazon offered more money than Twitter did last year, giving them a shot at the season, but “there were also some concerns over Amazon’s ability to sell the ad inventory, according to a source familiar with the pitch.” However, the company’s ad business is growing and it also created a new sports group. If Amazon does win the bid, the NFL may stipulate that it can’t limit the games’ distribution to Prime members (although there are at least 66 million of them).

YouTube has over one billion users, many of them young and outside the U.S, but “while YouTube has lots of video advertisers, the company is going through a bit of an advertiser crisis at the moment, with numerous big-name marketers pulling ad dollars out of fear their ads will run next to offensive content.”