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Cutting the Cord: Twitter's NFL kickoff is good

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Twitter has successfully kicked off its Thursday Night Football streaming broadcasts. But how much teaming up with the NFL will help flush out new users is an open question.

Twitter’s Sept. 15 showing of the New York Jets-Buffalo Bills game drew 2.1 million viewers, plus another 200,000 if you add in the pre-game show. That’s far below the 15.2 million who watched Yahoo’s Oct. 25, 2015, live-stream of the Bills vs. Jacksonville Jaguars. However, that game was shown only online, while the Thursday Night Football broadcast appeared on CBS and NFL Network.

So far the partnership “looks like a clear win for the NFL and CBS,” says analyst Joel Espelien of research firm The Diffusion Group in a report on the deal. “The benefit to Twitter, if any, is much less clear.”

Viewers were winners, too, in gaining multiple new ways to watch NFL action. The problem is that modern video consumers “are basically platform agnostic,” Espelien said.

More viewers watched the Yahoo NFL broadcast online because that was the only place to see it, he says. The Twitter TNF game, in contrast, could be seen on many devices, so viewers will gravitate to “whatever platform is most convenient,” Espelien said, “which for a live NFL game on a Thursday night happens to be the set-top box hooked up to their living room TV (and not Twitter).”

Viewers of TNF on Twitter got all the pre- and post-game coverage, as well as most of the advertisements shown on CBS or NFL Network. Twitter basically became another TV channel to watch the game.

I watched portions of the game on desktop, smart-TV devices and on my smartphone, and each platform did a superb job of delivering the broadcast. I got to watch high-quality video first on an Apple TV device and subsequently on an Amazon Fire TV, connected by wired Ethernet to a TV.

In general, I enjoyed watching the Twitter feed on the TV apps. Both allow you to toggle between seeing tweets or not. (The Twitter app is also available on Xbox Live, however, for some reason I could not get it to work.)

Some viewers noted that because the Twitter broadcast feed trailed that of traditional TV by 10 to 20 seconds or so, some tweets spoiled the outcome of the next play.

Another note on video quality: Even though the Apple and Amazon TV devices each displayed top-notch video, the quality fell short of that on CBS or NFL Network broadcasts on DirecTV or Verizon FiOS TV.

On my computer, I easily found a link to the Thursday Night Football feed in the Trends column on the Twitter Home page. Game footage looked pristine on the desktop and on my smartphone.

Viewership rose 34% on the second TNF game Sept. 22, in which the New England Patriots beat the Houston Texans 27-0, Twitter and the NFL said.

Twitter’s goal with the NFL deal — to stream a total of 10 Thursday-night games this season for a reported $10 million — is a way to attract new users and perhaps some lapsed ones, intercept some advertising dollars and boost its cachet. (The NFL, which is the kingpin of U.S. sports, has less at stake and hoped the deal might bring in cord cutters, who do not have pay TV or an antenna.) Twitter also has deals to begin streaming Major League Baseball and National Hockey League games and, in recent weeks, has shown some Mountain West Conference football games, too.

The far bigger story for Twitter investors (TWTR) has taken place far from the gridiron, instead involving whether another company — speculation has included Google, Twitter and Disney — is planning to buy it.

Shares surged in June and August on merger reports, which have revived in the last few days. Twitter stock has rallied 25% since last Thursday, buoying optimism that had buckled in July when the company posted its eighth consecutive quarter of declining revenue growth and slowing user growth.

“Cutting the Cord” is a regular column covering Net TV and ways to get it. If you have suggestions or questions, contact Mike Snider at msnider@usatoday.com. And follow him on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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