On the morning of Oct. 25, my flight from Chicago's O'Hare Airport was delayed as usual, so I searched for "Bills Jaguars" on Twitter, which immediately took me to the Yahoo Sports account. It had a direct link to the stream of the NFL game in London. I clicked, and within three seconds, I was watching the action from Wembley Stadium.
Afterward, I asked people what they thought. Responses were split along generational lines. Among older fans, I heard feedback like: "I could never watch meaningful games on my phone" and "I couldn't figure out how to watch."
Younger fans were more interested: "I pulled it up for a few minutes. It was pretty cool," said one person, or, "Checked in on LeSean McCoy because he's on my fantasy team."
Despite mixed reviews, Yahoo's streaming of the Bills-Jaguars game, which cost it $20 million, still must be considered a success because of its ground-breaking significance. The NFL announced Tuesday that 10 of its 16 Thursday Night Football broadcasts this season will be streamed for free on Twitter. (Verizon gets to stream the other six through its NFL Mobile app.)
For Twitter, this is a big win. The company is under intense pressure from its shareholders to increase its revenue. A mere $10 million for direct streams of CBS and NBC broadcasts on Thursdays is a start. According to news reports, the national commercials from the NBC and CBS feeds will be shown on Twitter's stream. But Twitter will be allowed to sell the spots reserved for local TV commercials, about 15 per game.
It is also a win for the NFL, which expands its massive distribution to another platform. As Roger Goodell said in a statement, "Twitter is where live events unfold." He also noted Twitter's significant role in the fan experience: "There is a massive amount of NFL-related conversation happening on Twitter during our games."
Twitter's hosting of this conversation appears to have been the difference in winning the Thursday streaming rights. Other companies -- including Yahoo, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Verizon and CBS -- were in the mix, and at least one bid was reportedly $5 million higher than Twitter's bid. But with Twitter, fan discussion, analysis and the actual game will be right there on one screen.
— Roger Goodell (@nflcommish) April 5, 2016
Virtually every active Twitter user who is interested in football will engage to some degree. Perhaps not every second of every game, but gone are the days of having to be in a home or a bar to watch a game. Out to dinner, stuck in the office or on a date, there is now no way to stop fans from checking in on live video of the game.
"This is about transforming the fan experience with football," says Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. "People watch NFL games with Twitter today. Now they'll be able to watch right on Twitter Thursday nights."
By becoming the digital hub of Thursday Night Football, Twitter will be a showcase for how quickly the streaming of NFL games has progressed. CBS live-streamed a few Thursday Night games in 2014, then did seven in 2015. Now the NFL has sold Thursday streaming for the upcoming season for $10 million.
It also shows that the league understands the importance of developing new ways to serve its product, whether that's to cord-cutters or those who grew up with a digital-first mindset. The NFL-Twitter deal reflects the viewing sensibilities for fans my age (22). Consider ...
-- I watched most Monday Night Football games last year on ESPN3.
-- NBC Sports Extra is my home for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
-- I caught a lot of Northwestern basketball at the gym on BTN2Go.
The expectation is that sports should be available for us to watch when and where we want to. The reasoning is simple: Technology has made it possible. So in addition to Twitter and the NFL being winners in this deal, so are younger fans whose lifestyle is digitally driven.
Which brings us to some potential losers: CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN all have big-money TV deals that last through at least 2021. But the NFL's one-year contract with Twitter is just the start of the streaming blitz. Although all of these established networks have dabbled in streaming live games, this has revolved mostly around TV subscriptions, in-market content or games available on national broadcasts. At some point, they will need to get themselves deeper into the streaming game to retain their audiences and/or attract new ones.
It is interesting to note that CBS, which launched its Over The Top product late last year, was listed among Twitter's competitors for the Thursday streaming package. CBS' decision to go OTT shows an understanding that it needs a fresh approach to pick up viewers. Many young professionals are not even buying cable anymore, opting for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Netflix and Hulu.
And unlike those services, which require a certain level of subscription, Twitter is free. Forget cable. All you need is 90 seconds to sign up.
Even if it isn't free, streaming is still attractive. A pioneering study on the behavior of sports fans by the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg and The PostGame revealed that "fans say they will pay more for streaming than for similar channels via cable or satellite television."
The ability to watch out-of-market NFL games is already expanding. NFL Sunday Ticket was once only available on DirecTV. Last season, a streaming version of Sunday Ticket was introduced. There were stipulations, and it still involved a subscription, but this was part of the same trend that included Yahoo's Lions-Jaguars game, Verizon's NFL Mobile app and the new Twitter deal.
This puts some heat on the TV networks -- which have always had the leverage to subjugate NFL fans to specific games broadcast into their homes -- to figure out some sort of streaming play. They've got a lot of work to do. And a lot of coding to learn.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.