Twitter shook up the sports world with its live-stream of Thursday Night Football. Yes, NFL games have been streamed on the internet before. And yes, Twitter has streamed other sports on its platform before.

The big difference, in this case, was the integration of America’s most popular and talked about sports with a native engagement platform having a massive audience overlap.

From most fans Al and Scott talked to during and after the broadcast, it was a huge success and happen to agree with them. The merging worlds of sport and technology are a growing trend with no signs of slowing down. Sports teams today are increasingly aware of the digital landscape and a need to reach and engage their fans on multiple platforms.

Social media has become a natural evolution for franchises to take, and many employ entire teams of people dedicated to the medium. No longer does a fan need to head down to a crusty sports bar to engage other fans in banter about the game. They can talk about the game with other fans from around the world without ever leaving the couch. Not only that, they can speak directly to their favorite team, players, and the owners.

Watching the game on the same platform you have those conversations felt like a very natural next step towards the future.

While the relationship is still in its infancy, there were a number of very good signs:

Stream quality – there were a few hiccups with buffering but for the most part, picture quality was pretty good and consistent throughout the game. Al shared the video within the mobile feed and the quality was still high when showing multiple copies.

Multiple platforms – the announcement and roll out of availability on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Xbox One came at the eleventh hour but significantly widened the potential audience by giving users the ability to stream it from their TV. 

Engagement – there’s usually a lot of action on Twitter during NFL games, but having a real-time integration of that conversation with the programming itself created a feeling of camaraderie that hasn’t always been there with users only checking notifications during game breaks. The most common complaint was from places (Canada) where the live stream wasn’t available due to restrictions outside of Twitter’s control.

That being said, there were also a number of growing pain issues that will hopefully be cleaned up as the partnership goes forward:

Time delays –  we tested the streams on Xbox One, the Android app for tablet and smartphone, as well as multiple browsers. Scott immediately noticed that each stream ran with a different amount of delay, and those amounts changed between platforms after each commercial break. The ads were different on each platform, so the assumption is that delays were being manipulated to accommodate that advertising.

Additionally, he noticed that refreshing would bring the stream back closer to real-time until the next commercial break. Al saw the delay in the same mobile stream. This screen shot shows the live feed on iOS (top) and the feed showing his share via a tweet (bottom) with a little delay o the same device/network.

Viewability – the mobile app versions of the stream were about as expected considering the size limitations of those screens. Landscape gave a full-screen view of the stream, and in portrait, tweets were sized as normal with the video playing above. The browser streams could use some optimization. With browser maximized, there are two options for viewing. You can have the stream itself full screen with no tweets, or a tiny embedded stream next to a large and wide stream of tweets that overshadowed the video.

Despite being the least manageable for engaging other tweets, the Xbox One app experience was the most pleasing for watching the streams of tweets and video simultaneously. The video was large and filled the left side of the screen with tweets in a smaller sidebar on the right.

Tweet selection – it was clear that we were seeing a different group of tweets appearing on the stream for each platform, and after looking at #TNF separately it was clear that only certain tweets were showing next to the feed. Despite this, there were lots of tweets in the stream that were non-related, critical of NFL’s other issues, or wildly inappropriate.

Whatever filter they are using, it could probably use a tune-up before the next game.

tnf-stream-2

App issues – after logging out of the Xbox One stream early, Scott came back to it later in the game only to find he could no longer navigate to the game in the app. He could watch the Twitter Moments feed of content about the game, but not the game itself. We also talked to a handful of iOS users who said the app told them watching the game required installing the latest version of the Twitter app, then were unable to access the stream still after performing that update.

So yes, there were a handful of issues, but that is to be expected at the launch of anything new. No doubt Twitter already has their engineers working on it. Most people we’ve talked to consider the experiment successful and will continue tuning in on Thursday nights this fall.

With Twitter’s new array of sports property licenses including NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, EPL, Wimbledon, US Open, and the Pac-12, those who participated in the Twitter streaming last night may have been first witnesses to the changing of the guard.