Twitter’s Streaming Deals May Turn It Into a Cord Cutter’s Dream Come True

Twitter is now encroaching on the last compelling reason to keep cable: live sports.

Aug 5 2016, 3:30pm

Image: Stephen Yeargin/Flickr

You may not have heard this, but Twitter's in trouble. Just kidding. Everyone knows it, as it's been going on for at least a year now. The company still isn't profitable, and membership numbers have barely budged. Meanwhile, Facebook is taking over the world, and Instagram and Snapchat are exponentially multiplying their active users.

To be fair, it's not for the lack of trying. It appointed a new CEO, Jack Dorsey, who came with a plan to get the ship back on track. Unfortunately, so far the plans haven't done much for the company, as evidenced by the most recent earnings report.

But despite the sad quarterly earnings and disappointing user numbers, Twitter thinks it has an ace up its sleeve that will turn things around. Live streaming video.

It all started back in April when Twitter scored streaming rights to 10 NFL games. Following that deal, Twitter continued to make deal after deal to live stream other sporting events. Wimbledon, NBA pregame shows, out-of-market MLB and NHL games, and even E-Sports competitions.

On top of all the sports coverage, Twitter is getting its feet wet with news coverage as well. So far this has included a deal with CBSN for coverage of both political conventions (which made perfect sense), as well as a partnership with Bloomberg for financial news.

And at the rate things are going, Twitter will probably have another deal to announce by the time this article is edited and published. Yep, it's an all out blitz on the world of streaming. Suddenly, Twitter has become a useful tool in the box of cord cutters everywhere.

Except, in line with cord cutting as a whole, it provides a fractured experience. You can stream several Thursday Night Football games, but not the NFL Network-only games. And Twitter won't be much help for streaming NFL Preseason games. You can watch NBA pre game shows, but you'll have to look elsewhere come game time. And how the hell are you supposed to know which MLB games will be on Twitter and which won't?

It's a problem that's plagued cord cutting over the last couple years, which is why services like Sportle are looking to aggregate content. It's also why services like Sling TV are looking to make bigger deals to become all-in-one solutions, and why would-be cord cutters need guides for figuring out how to watch sports online.

But who's to say Twitter is looking to become the cord cutting savior (Twitter hasn't gotten back with Motherboard yet to answer that question for itself). Maybe this is just a way to bring more people to the service and increase revenue in the process.

The question is… will it work?

"It certainly fits with the live nature of the core Twitter experience," Jan Dawson, Chief Analyst of Jackdaw Research, told Motherboard. "But I worry that Twitter isn't doing enough to fix that core experience, especially for new users, and this is a matter of papering over cracks rather than really solving fundamental issues that need to be addressed."

In other words, a band-aid rather than a solution. The user experience may not have changed enough to attract mainstream users or stop some of the annoying abuse mentioned in this story.

And if Twitter views this as a way to kickstart a new membership drive, why isn't it requiring people to create an account or log in to view the streams?

"It's a way to maximize the audience, which is probably smart. People who already use the app or website will likely be logged in anyway," Dawson said. "The key is for Twitter to give people good reasons to log in or create accounts if they're not, for example by making additional functionality available only to people who are logged in."

Of course, none of this means very much if the user experience doesn't hold up. Sure it seems like a great idea to be able to stream and discuss content in the same place, but what if Twitter's streaming platform isn't ready to handle the load? After all, streaming services like Sling TV had significant growing pains getting of the launch pad. Dawson calls this his "main concern" as Twitter has made a ton of live stream deals but still hasn't "done much testing on their platform and its ability to handle all this traffic well."

He also noted that their quick Wimbledon test "was hard to find on the service and so can't have helped much with load testing." He went on to note that "the interface also needs a lot more work."

As for using live streaming to generate revenue, it's anyone's guess, really. "It's unclear how much revenue these new video deals will drive for Twitter, given that most of the content is non-exclusive and most of the ads have already been sold by others."

So will live streaming save Twitter? Who knows. But it sure is nice to have another tool in the cord cutting toolbox.