As we finally, collectively begin to emerge from winter, the National Football League is already urging us to look towards fall, and this time Twitter is doing so alongside them.
On Tuesday morning, the NFL and Twitter announced that Thursday Night Football will stream digitally on Twitter this coming football season. The social media service will stream 10 games over the course of the season, alongside "pre-game Periscope broadcasts from players and teams," and highlights afterwards. ESPN is reporting that Twitter beat out bids from a number of other companies, "including Facebook, Amazon and Verizon." Apparently it was pretty cheap: Re/code says Twitter paid less than $10 million, winning out over higher bids.
According to the press release, users won't have to register in order to stream the game, but surely some portion of football fans will wind up signing up for an account. This may be a Hail Mary move for Twitter which needs to boost its flagging growth in user numbers. According to the NFL, Thursday Night Football's TV broadcasts averaged 13 million viewers over the 16 games broadcast last year.
One thing that remains to be seen is how they'll treat GIFs. I don't mean that in a glib way. Sports GIFs after games are a huge social media phenomenon; after an amazing catch, touchdown, or buzzer-beating shot, short clips from the broadcast flood social media streams. And broadcasters and sports leagues have signaled they don't like it, coming out aggressively against the use of their copyrighted material.
Last year the NFL, along with the NCAA and UFC, filed a number of DMCA requests to get GIFs and Vines of games taken down. Those requests led to the suspension of several Twitter accounts, including those of Gawker Media sports blog Deadspin and an SBNation account. At the time, NFL issued the following statement on the issue:
Both the NFL and Twitter have yet to respond to my requests for information on what, if any, change the agreement will have on the NFL's GIF policy. I'll update this post if they get back to me.
But, with the increased availability of a live, streaming broadcast of some NFL games on Twitter, the ease of making and distributing ~unofficial~ GIFs will increase. Will that mean going after more accounts? (There are still plenty of NFL GIF accounts out there.) With the NFL now an official partner, will Twitter more aggressively police NFL GIFs and automatically suspend the accounts of offenders? Or will the NFL ease up on its takedown requests and embrace social media mores along with its new live-stream platform? I guess we'll find out this fall.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org