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NFL Live Streams Thursday Night Football On Twitter


Thursday Night Football has never been the NFL's biggest stage. But last night, it was, in a way. For the first time ever, an NFL game streamed live on Twitter, on its website and apps, commentators and all.


No cable subscription needed, no antenna, just the Internet. More than 2 million people saw at least part of the game on Twitter, though many people didn't watch for very long. It was the first in a 10-game deal Twitter made with the NFL earlier this year.

CORNISH: Here to talk about how it went and the implications for both Twitter and the NFL is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

Eric, welcome back.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Are you ready for some football?

CORNISH: (Laughter) Yes, I am. And the obvious...


CORNISH: ...Question that comes first is how was it? I mean, what's it like watching a football game on social media?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, (laughter) in a weird way, it was like watching it on CBS or the NFL Network - right? - because they simulcast that game on those two channels, and Twitter presented that feed. I don't know. There were a couple moments when I thought the screen might freeze up for a second or you kind of see a sequence like a second or two repeated, like a record was skipping or something. But for the most part, I really liked it. They had curated comments, if you watched it on a desktop or you watched it on the app, underneath the actual video footage. So you could see a little bit of the conversation. Some people complained because on CBS and on the NFL Network, the action was a little bit ahead. You know, the Twitter broadcast was a little delayed. But other than that, it seemed to go very well, and people seemed to like it.

CORNISH: OK, so no spoiler alerts (laughter).

DEGGANS: (Laughter).

CORNISH: And then, the other thing - for a long time, people have been, I guess, using what you call a second screen - right? - watching something on TV and then commenting on social media, especially Twitter. So tell us about those comments from Twitter users. I mean, what were they like?

DEGGANS: Well, that was the weird part about this is that, you know, sports fans have long used Twitter and other social media to sort of talk about games as they watch them. So you think, if Twitter is going to present a live-streaming cast of a game, that that might be a big feature. But that was kind of hampered because the comments that you saw associated with the video were curated or were selected. And now, they did that, I'm sure, to keep out all the Twitter trolls and so you couldn't post any vulgarities or anything like that. But you couldn't have, like, a direct conversation. You had to sort of watch this conversation that Twitter was giving you. And you had to go to a different area of Twitter if you wanted to talk to your friends or if you wanted to talk to people that you follow.

As I saw somebody else point out online, the comments didn't really feature, like, football experts or somebody who was connected to the game or a celebrity or anything like that. And that would have spiced up the conversation, I think, if Twitter had dropped in some specialized comments. So it didn't feel very much like Twitter even though it was on Twitter.

CORNISH: Now, Twitter reportedly paid $10 million for the rights to stream 10 of these Thursday Night Football games - nine more to go. What's in it for both of these entities, right? Ten million dollars isn't a lot when it comes to NFL money.

DEGGANS: Right, exactly. This is a bit of an experiment, I think, for both of them. For Twitter, they're trying to get people to see it more as a general-interest website. You know, they've already got the people who are interested in social media. But maybe people might see Twitter in a different way if they go to it for something that's more generally interesting, like football.

For the NFL, they've always been experimenting in the last few years about how to stream their games outside of their own platforms. They did something with Yahoo where they live-streamed a game last year, for example. So this is part of that experiment to sort of see who shows up, who watches the ads, who can they reach that they're not reaching before. Both of these companies seem to be trying something new.

CORNISH: That's Eric Deggans, NPR's TV critic, talking to us about Twitter's livestream of Thursday Night Football last night.

Eric, thanks so much.

DEGGANS: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.