There’s a sub-genre of videos in which children react to technology relics like rotary phones, Walkmans and typewriters and reveal how foreign such concepts are. When hearing an old-style busy signal, for instance, one kid guesses that it means the phone is “loading or searching.”
A good candidate for that list is linear TV. Have you ever had to explain to a child how you used to have to wait to watch your favorite TV program, and if you missed it, you wouldn’t get a chance to see it again? Today, you can access most of your favorite programming any time, on-demand, and you can usually find what you’re looking for on your desktop or mobile device, even for event viewing.
If we needed another reminder that in 2016, TV is just another screen, witness Twitter’s latest deal with the National Football League. Twitter announced in April that it would stream 10 regular-season NFL Thursday Night Football games free and on a global basis.
Although livestream numbers for the first two games have been underwhelming to some, hopping on this phenomenon is a smart move for Twitter, which is in dire need of a Hail Mary. And Twitter is not the only potential winner in this game.
Twitter’s Hail Mary
Twitter, whose audience grew by just 1 percent in the second quarter of 2016 compared with the previous quarter, has been experiencing sluggish growth. Revenues were up 20 percent, but investors viewed that as disappointing since growth has been trailing off for the past two years. Reporting that several companies have backed out of acquiring the social network has certainly not helped the company’s share price.
In addition to livestreaming the Thursday Night Football games, Twitter will also offer in-game highlights and pregame Periscope broadcasts, “giving fans an immersive experience before, during and after games,” according to the NFL.
When the NFL tested the idea last year by streaming a game on Yahoo, that game drew 15 million viewers. While those numbers are significantly greater than the 2.2 million garnered for the second Thursday Night Football game, they can grow to give Twitter a boost, which it can certainly use. But there are potential beneficiaries to the deal beyond Twitter, too.
Guarding against a potential end to the NFL’s winning streak
The NFL has been a ratings juggernaut the past few years, but this year, gravity caught up with it. For the first two weeks of the regular season, Sunday Night Football ratings are down 12 percent compared with last year. Monday Night Football ratings have plunged by the same amount, and CBS’ Thursday Night Football fell 26 percent.
While there may be extenuating circumstances (Tom Brady was out, for instance), it’s possible that the NFL, too has proven vulnerable to the same forces that have dogged linear TV. In that case, this deal came just in time to shore up viewership among millennial and Generation Z cord-cutters.
Advertisers get into the game
Advertisers still love the NFL for its ability to deliver large audiences in an age of media fragmentation, but linear TV is still based on an antiquated model of demographic targeting.
Opening up the games to livestreaming means that marketers can make use of the same types of behavioral and preference-based targeting that are available on digital and mobile. Twitter is hoping to make up to $50 million on NFL advertising, including in-game ads, pre-roll ads and Periscope streams. Twitter’s options for ad targeting include customer interests, geographic targeting, behavioral targeting and tailored audience targeting in which marketers can use their first-party data, including customer-relationship-management lists.
With football fans already actively communicating on Twitter during games, the livestream and its related advertising opportunities represent a great way for advertisers to reach an engaged consumer audience.
Even good old-fashioned TV gets in on the action
There are still a lot of people that watch good old-fashioned linear TV, but the numbers are going the wrong way. These days, YouTube claims that it reaches more 18- to 49-year-olds than the top 10 prime-time TV shows. Some TV shows have lost 30 percent to 40 percent of their 18- to 34-year-old viewers this fall.
The way forward for TV is to position itself as merely another screen in a consumer’s panoply of media choices. Millennial viewers don’t need the TV networks for much. Even big events like the presidential debates were broadcast on Facebook.
A new playbook
For years, the NFL has stood alone as the exception to the rule for TV. As viewers abandoned most other forms of programming, advertisers continued to hedge their bets on football.
That’s probably a safe wager for the next few years, as well, but over the long term, the NFL will have to adapt to the multiscreen world like everyone else. Televised football will never become as antiquated as a rotary phone, but this deal will keep it from losing momentum over the next few years.
Daniel Dryburgh is an account manager and global team lead at video advertising provider GlassView.