Twitter will be live-streaming ten Thursday Night Football games this fall.
Not just short video clips — entire games.
The surprise news came Tuesday at the conclusion of a bidding war between several digital video heavyweights.
“People watch NFL games with Twitter today. Now they’ll be able to watch right on Twitter Thursday nights,” CEO Jack Dorsey said.
NFL commissioner Roger Goddell confirmed the news through, appropriately enough, a tweet.
Most football fans will still watch the games the old-fashioned way, through CBS, NBC and the NFL Network.
But the deal gives Twitter and the NFL an opportunity to experiment with new forms of distribution and new forms of advertiser integration.
The live streams will be available through Twitter’s app on phones, tablets and Internet-connected TV sets.
The deal also includes “pre-game Periscope broadcasts from players and teams, giving fans an immersive experience before, during and after games,” the partners said in a press release.
Ten of the 2016 season’s sixteen Thursday night games are included in the Twitter deal.
In January, CBS and NBC paid roughly $450 million combined for the rights to the same ten games — $45 million per game.
The networks agreed to split 10 games per season between the two of them. CBS and NBC have the broadcast and streaming rights, so Twitter’s involvement is not exclusive, it’s additive.
The price tag of the Twitter streaming deal is unknown. But a person with direct knowledge of the deal confirmed that Twitter paid less than NBC and CBS, since the games will reach a smaller audience on the web.
The source said the NFL views the Twitter pact as complementary to television because it reaches users, particularly young people, on smart phones and tablets.
The NFL and Twitter have previously worked together on promotional efforts like in-game highlights. But this surprise move is a big expansion of the partnership.
Scoring the streaming rights to some of the most premium TV programming on the planet may show a new way forward for the highly-scrutinized startup.
Twitter COO Adam Bain tweeted that it “continues our strategy to build world’s best daily connected audience that watches together and can talk with one another in real-time.”
He said he “can’t wait” to bring the deal to marketers. Twitter will be able to sell some of the ads that are included in the live stream.
One of the other bidders was Twitter’s much bigger rival, Facebook. The company had publicly expressed interest in the rights to the streaming package, but last week it dropped out of the race.
At that time, a source involved in the talks said “multiple suitors are still pushing hard” for the rights.
Amazon and Verizon were said to be two of them.
The NFL has long-term deals for TV broadcasts of its games. But it is experimenting with web streams of games on a parallel track, ensuring that the league has many options as the media landscape evolves.
Bloomberg News was first to report the deal on Tuesday morning.