Bloomberg broke the news this morning that Twitter is the winner of the digital rights package of Thursday night games the NFL has been auctioning off recently. Twitter came out of left field (if that’s not the wrong metaphor for this particular sport), and it’s worth thinking about both why Twitter would want this deal, and what the implications might be.
Update: some significant new details have emerged since I wrote the first version of this post, notably that Twitter has likely paid far less for these rights than previous rights owners, in part because it will sell very few ads itself and will largely carry the broadcast and ads provided by the network broadcasters. As such, the size of the gamble is significantly smaller, and the comments about guidance also make more sense. I subsequently wrote a second piece which covers the later news.
Firstly, we know now that Jack Dorsey really is serious about making live – and live video specifically – a focus in 2016! So far, Twitter has been used almost entirely for people to talk about live events being broadcast on other platforms, which has meant it hasn’t been able to benefit as directly as some other players from those live events, even if massive numbers of tweets were sent and even shown on television. Last night’s NCAA Championship basketball game is a great example of this. This deal suddenly gets Twitter directly into the business of showing these games and tapping into some of the additional associated revenue opportunities. It also significantly ups Twitter’s live video game from short, grainy videos to professionally produced content.
One of the most interesting things is going to be seeing how this fits into the Twitter product – with all the other bidders, there were obvious existing platforms for broadcasting NFL games, but with Twitter they’ll have to create a completely new home for this kind of thing. It’s possible they might use Periscope, but given the poor quality of most Periscope videos until now, I would think the NFL might have qualms about having their high-quality content appear there. Now that the news is out from the NFL, with comment from Twitter, we know that Twitter is describing the experience as being “right on Twitter,” but I’m curious to see the exact implementation.
The other big questions is how Twitter will do selling ads against this content – it’s obviously a very different type of advertising from what they’ve sold before, but it gives them their first real opportunity to cross-sell these different types of ads and break into television advertising for the first time. It may also be a first real opportunity to make really good money from the “logged-out users” Twitter has been talking up for so long, but who are so hard to advertise to effectively.
And then there’s the question of how much Twitter paid for the rights here. It’s hard to guess at because this package of rights is very different from any other similar package sold before – non-exclusive in the US, but exclusive internationally. But almost no matter what the exact number, it’s likely to be a meaningful fraction of Twitter’s overall revenue. That’s one of the reasons Twitter is such a surprising bidder (and winner) – it’s a much smaller company than most of the other names that were bidding, with just over $2 billion in revenue last year. If the rights costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars, which seems likely, then they may well cost 10-20% of revenue. That’s a huge gamble, and we all know the gamble didn’t pay off for Yahoo. The strangest thing is that the Twitter Investor Relations account tweeted this morning that all expenses associated with the rights are already baked into its guidance for the year. That seems particularly odd given that Twitter likely didn’t know whether they’d won the rights yet when they announced their guidance, and it’s a material amount of money.
Hopefully we’ll get more detail on all of this either later today or over the coming weeks, but it’s a fascinating illustration of the sheer breadth of the companies getting involved in the live video business at this point, coming from a diverse set of starting points within the broader industry.