Commentary

Twitter's Hail Mary Pass Is Live Streaming Sports

When ESPN started even sports fans were dubious. But it became apparent, even marginally iffy sports find audiences, a theory that only failed NBC's XFL.

Sports leagues and sports fans can both be insufferable, but they are both insatiable, the leagues for revenue and the fans for content. It works out. The sports business has done more to develop new technologies and new showcases than any other part of the video business.

Now, as Twitter is showing, in the future, we’ll get our sports fix in ever smaller pieces, on ever smaller screens. The fully Portable Fan is here. Or there. Or in that car. Right now, Twitter has the ability to be the place they gather, or fall flat on its face.

Not only does Twitter have the rights to show 10 NFL games this fall, it keeps adding to it sports bag.

Earlier this week, Twitter said it will begin live streaming one out-of-market major league baseball and major league hockey game a week.

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That’s on top of an earlier announcement that Twitter and the NBA will develop live, exclusive content. And the Pac-12 collegiate conference is all in on Twitter, too.

Add all that up and you end up with the real likelihood that streaming sports is just about done with its position as an add-on to sports coverage. Convenience usually breeds more convenience; streaming causes more streaming. Sports has gone far beyond major league baseball’s phenomenal, pioneering streaming efforts and the World Cup. In five years, max, it’s likely that streaming pro sports, especially via mobile devices, will be the rule rather than the exception.

And that can be Twiter's future too.

So it will be interesting to see how Twitter markets itself, or uses its own space to tell a wider audience about its growing sports focus. It’s crucial that it make the effort because for many Twitter is baffling, and it knows it.

It just launched a new ad campaign that it says will finally come to grips with its fundamental problem: It is far, far more misunderstood than Dr Pepper’s worst nightmare.  

“First, 90%  of people globally recognize the Twitter brand,” it blogged on its corporate blog. “Ninety percent! That’s a testament to all the people, companies, news outlets and public figures who use Twitter and make it as powerful and far-reaching as it is today.”

But it quickly acknowledged, a lot of people are bewildered.

“First, most didn’t know or simply misunderstood what Twitter was for - many thought of Twitter primarily as a social network, a place to find and connect with friends and family members,” the blog post said. “Second, they thought if they wanted to use Twitter, they were ‘supposed to Tweet every day’  and didn’t think they would have that much to say. We realized we had some explaining and clarifying to do!

Well, yeah.

That Twitter still has that problem is a problem--Twitter, started in 2006,  is only one year younger than YouTube. But the dog keeps eating its term paper.

That it has been able to land rights agreements with the NFL, MLB, NHL and the NBA means that it’s really got a deadline to solve this perception problem, or get tossed into the Internet closet with Yahoo and MySpace. Because it’s clear that  everyday streaming of sports is destined to become as ordinary as Sunday afternoon football, whether or not Twitter is there to stream it.

pj@mediapost.com

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