Twitter’s First NFL ‘Thursday Night Football’ Stream Pulls In 243,000 Average Per-Minute Viewers

Todd Spangler

Twitter scored 2.1 million unique viewers worldwide for its inaugural “Thursday Night Football” live stream, in which the New York Jets defeated the Buffalo Bills.

However, the average audience watching “TNF” on Twitter properties — a metric more comparable to TV ratings — was 243,000, with each viewer watching an average of 22 minutes of the game on the social service.

As expected, Twitter’s internet stream was dwarfed by the TV audience: The game was seen by an average of 15.4 million television viewers on CBS and NFL Network, and earned an average national household rating/share of 9.5/18, according to Nielsen’s live-plus-same-day ratings. In total, CBS and NFL Network’s coverage of Jets-Bills was watched by 48.1 million viewers on television, with a minimum of one minute viewed.

Still, the results for Twitter were relatively strong. On the other hand, that might reflect the novelty of its first major live sports event — and audience numbers could fall off in the weeks to come. Under the terms of its deal with the NFL, Twitter landed worldwide streaming rights to 10 “TNF” games this season for a reported $10 million.

The free live-stream was available worldwide on Twitter’s website at tnf.twitter.com (to anyone, not just logged-in users), as well as its apps for mobile devices, Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV and Microsoft’s Xbox One game console. Viewers could watch the live feed of CBS’s telecast of the game in one window and see a string of related tweets in another window.

In total, Twitter reached 2.3 million combined worldwide viewers including the “Thursday Night Kickoff” pre- and post-game shows. Those viewers watched the Jets-Bills game for a minimum of three seconds with the video being 100% in view.

Overall, the average digital audience for “TNF” across Twitter, NFL Mobile from Verizon, Watch NFL Network, NFL Game Pass (International) and authenticated users on CBS Digital platforms users was 314,000 with each viewer spending an average of 25 minutes watching. Across all digital properties, “TNF” reached 2.4 million viewers.

By comparison, NBC’s season opener “Thursday Night Football” game on Sept. 8 between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos drew 1.2 million unique users and an average minute audience of 278,000 via the NBC Sports app, NBCSports.com, NBC.com authenticated, and NFL Mobile from Verizon. The rematch of the two Super Bowl 50 teams set a record as the highest-trafficked non-Olympic, non-Super Bowl live stream ever for NBC Sports Digital, with a total of 61.8 million live-streaming minutes consumed.

While Twitter’s free live-stream of the Jets-Bills game obviously appealed to cord-cutters, or people who don’t even have TVs, it isn’t clear that wrapping tweets around the video proved to be a strong lure. On Twitter, the matchup registered 255,000 game-related tweets related on Thursday, 38% fewer than the 411,000 for last week’s Panthers-Broncos, according to analytics company Quid.

Twitter’s “TNF” stream had lower viewership than Yahoo’s Oct. 25 NFL game in London between the Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars — but that was not broadcast nationally on U.S. TV. For that game, the first time an NFL game had been webcast for free globally, Yahoo reported 15.2 million unique viewers worldwide and delivered more than 460 million streaming minutes. But Yahoo didn’t release an average-minute-audience figure; that was estimated to be about 2.36 million, which is far less than NFL games on TV. Critics also pointed out that Yahoo auto-streamed the live video on yahoo.com and in several of its apps, which means many users who didn’t even intend to watch the game saw at least several minutes.

For the “TNF” games, Twitter has rights to sell a portion of the video inventory, while carrying the bulk of the ads from the NBC and CBS telecasts. The social company has signed advertisers including Anheuser-Busch InBev, Nestlé, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Verizon as sponsors for the live streams.

In Thursday’s game, the visiting Jets edged out the Bills 37-31 in a relatively high-scoring affair. Some users complained that Twitter’s stream was several seconds delayed behind the CBS broadcast. Such delays are common in virtually every live-video event on the internet, accounting for the time the video must be processed for mobile and web clients and then distributed online.

Twitter is banking on the NFL games, along with a string of other video deals, to bring in more users and win ad dollars from TV budgets. In the past several weeks, the company has inked content distribution pacts with MLB Advanced Media, NBA, Pac-12 Networks, Campus Insiders, Cheddar and Bloomberg News.

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