On Thursday, Twitter will live-stream an NFL game for the first time ever. Football fans can watch the New York Jets play the Buffalo Bills on Twitter.com, or Twitter’s mobile app, or through Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV or Xbox One, via a new Twitter app on those services. Or you can watch it on traditional cable on CBS—but where’s the excitement in that?
It’s all part of a deal Twitter scored back in April to stream 10 Thursday Night Football games this year, and it’s part of Twitter’s effort to be the No. 1 go-to place for live, social sports content—discussion, scores, video, everything.
But Snapchat wants to be that too, and with its new NFL channel, Snapchat might be better suited to attract young, tech-savvy NFL fans than Twitter. (Facebook wants in, too: this year it launched a new Sports Stadium section for sports talk, though the feature has not generated much buzz.)
Yahoo (parent company of Yahoo Finance) was the first digital media platform to globally live-stream an NFL game for free last year, an experiment that went reasonably well (15.2 million people tuned in). For this year, Twitter was the victor of a larger bidding process that was rumored to include Google, Facebook, and Amazon at one point. Twitter reportedly paid between $10 million and $15 million for the privilege.
Whether the privilege was worth the cost will depend on Twitter selling advertisements during the game. The company’s deal with the NFL does not allow it to sell all of the advertisements that will run during the stream (Yahoo’s deal did), just some of them, equivalent to the number of local ads you see on TV when you watch a game. Most of the national ads that run on CBS (or NBC, depending on the night) during the Thursday Night Football games Twitter streams will also show up on the Twitter stream.
For Twitter, this was a smart deal. Cord-cutters now have a myriad of options for watching an NFL game on Thursday night for free using some kind of connected device. They can watch it on a phone in a bar, or on an iPad on the bus, or at home on a TV, or on their computer on a train.
But will they?
Snapchat cut its own NFL deal for this season that steals a little bit of Twitter’s NFL thunder. The NFL has the first ever sports channel in Snapchat’s Discover tab. It is a two-year partnership for which the NFL will create exclusive clips and add them to the channel for all 256 regular-season NFL games. The channel can include full text articles, fun social games, highlight clips, commentary from NFL Network on-air talent, and behind-the-scenes videos from locker rooms.
None of that is a full game. Twitter has the full game. But there is increasing evidence that many young people might prefer quick, ephemeral bite-sized videos to watching a full game. As a study last year by the digital video network Whistle Sports showed, far more 13-24-year-olds list YouTube and Facebook than ESPN as their predominant place to consume sports video. It’s the same value proposition as Instagram and Vine deliver: Why sit for an entire game if you can get the best short highlights on your phone in under a minute?
ESPN, which has lost traditional cable subscribers, already knows the value of Snapchat: in a recent interview, ESPN digital chief John Kosner pointed to Snapchat, and the 18 million monthly viewers and 2.3 million daily viewers of ESPN’s Snapchat Discover channel, as a sign the network has not lost touch with young people.
The NFL has been huge for Snapchat, and vice-versa. Last season, before the launch of NFL on Snapchat Discover, there were already public NFL “Live Stories” for 30 games, consisting of user-submitted videos from the stadium and other curated clips and filters. Last season, 65 million unique Snapchat users viewed an NFL live story, according to Snapchat. And 40% of those viewers were international, which speaks to the NFL’s appeal abroad.
The NFL was likely the No. 1 most-viewed sport on Snapchat already, though the company will not confirm it is No. 1, just says it is “certainly one of our top sports.” Now that it is the first American sports league to have its own Discover channel, it will certainly be the biggest sport on Snapchat.
This summer, Snapchat surpassed Twitter in daily active users, with 150 million. The company says it reaches more than 40% of all 18-34-year-olds in the US, a staggering figure. By comparison, each TV network reaches only 6% of the same group.
Twitter and Snapchat, then, are going after the same demographic, and doing it the same way—outside the confines of cable TV. But Snapchat might prove that the best way to reach that demo is with social bites and quick-hit clips, not with full football games. Among young sports fans, appetites are changing.
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.