It’s a big day for Twitter.
Five months after signing a high-profile streaming deal with the NFL worth a reported $10 million, Twitter will finally put its technology to the test tonight with its first attempt at live streaming an NFL game.
The social media giant will stream the New York Jets vs. Buffalo Bills Thursday Night Football game that kicks off at 5:25 p.m. PT. You can access the game on Twitter here, or more simply at tnf.twitter.com. The stream, worldwide, will also be available on Twitter’s mobile app within the Moments tab, as well as on the company’s new apps for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Xbox One that debuted on Wednesday.
Like Twitter’s streaming coverage of Wimbledon, the video will play on one side of the screen, while a stream of curated tweets cascades down the other.
Users can stream Thursday’s game for free even if they don’t have a Twitter account or any sort of cable package. It will be available worldwide, except for Canada.
Even if you’re a CBS cable subscriber, you won’t be able to stream the game via CBS unless you are a Cablevision customer, as Recode noted. The easiest way to stream the action online will likely be on Twitter.
Or, you can also watch on CBS or NFL Network through the traditional tube, as most fans will do.
Twitter, which recently debuted distinct emojis for all 32 NFL teams, will show advertisements throughout the game, just like a normal TV broadcast. You’ll get the same play-by-play commentary shown to those watching the CBS feed on TV.
This is the first of 10 Thursday Night Football games that Twitter will live stream. The deal was a first-of-its-kind for Twitter, which beat out other bidders like Facebook, Verizon, and Amazon and sees the partnership as a way to add new users — something it’s struggled with over the past few years.
“It will also show people who don’t already use Twitter that our service is the destination for live events and the conversations around them,” Twitter said in a shareholders letter earlier this year.
Twitter CFO Anthony Noto, who was previously CFO of the NFL, said in April that combining tweets with live video is a “complete solution.”
“We know that during a 3-hour Thursday Night Football telecast, we have millions of users looking at tweets about that game and creating tens of millions of impressions that we know are very valuable to them, and very valuable to our partners — both the NFL, and of course our advertisers,” he explained on a company earnings call. “Being able to bring the live streaming game into the product with those live conversations and commentary is a complete solution.”
That’s similar to what NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle said in April, noting how fans are already using Twitter while they watch games. Now, the actual live event will be embedded within Twitter’s stream itself.
“This may reduce some friction between watching and commenting on the game, and being able to put your own spin and create your own content,” she said, speaking on a sports technology panel that I moderated at the Microsoft Envision conference in New Orleans. “We will see more fan-created content around the actual production of the game.”
Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey said earlier this year that “almost every league in the world contacted us” after the company announced the NFL deal. Since then, his company has signed similar live streaming deals with leagues like the NBA and MLB, all the way to media giants like Bloomberg and CBS.
“We plan to expand our global offering of live sports, as well as live news, politics, and entertainment,” Twitter said in its Q1 2016 letter to shareholders. “For content producers and rights holders like the NFL, we offer the ability to reach a large global, mobile, and younger audience both on and off of Twitter, together with years of experience making money jointly with partners through our Amplify program. You should expect to see us working with other partners to bring these kinds of joint experiences to life on Twitter.”
In July, Noto laid out key competitive advantages that separate Twitter from others when it comes to hosting a live-streaming experience. They include a large global audience and knowledge of individual users, many of which are outside the U.S. and are on mobile.
Noto added that the company’s “complete solution” offers media partners something more than what they show on traditional TV, and is directed at “connected” users that “drive virality and popularity.”
“We are looking to be an additive,” he said. “We are not just replicating the experience on TV. We combine it with a great timeline and many other social features.”
This is the the first NFL livestream since Yahoo streamed a game last season.
Here is a list of the 10 games Twitter will broadcast this season:
- Week 2, Sept. 15: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
- Week 3, Sept. 22: Houston Texans at New England Patriots
- Week 5, Oct. 6: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
- Week 6, Oct. 13: Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
- Week 7, Oct. 20: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
- Week 11, Nov. 17: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
- Week 13, Dec. 1: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings
- Week 14, Dec. 8: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
- Week 15, Dec. 15: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
- Week 16, Dec. 22: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles