SBJ/Oct. 21-27, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Twitter deal rankles some network execs

The NFL’s new deal with Twitter isn’t causing the same level of angst among TV networks as the league’s extensive content deal with Verizon earlier this year or the launch of NFL RedZone four years ago.

But network executives privately express annoyance over the Twitter agreement, which allows the league to tweet game highlights from its handle throughout the week but not during network telecasts. Network executives maintain that this is another example of the NFL further slicing and dicing content for more revenue and makes them more conscious of protecting their billion-dollar investments in NFL TV rights.

Adding to the irritation is that the NFL restricts how the networks can use Twitter on telecasts. Late last season, the league told networks that they could not feature Twitter’s bird symbol to promote players or announcer Twitter handles during games. The league reasoned that promoting tweets was an in-game sponsorship that is not allowed, sources said.

“The reality is that the NFL is so strong they don’t have to kowtow to their media partners,” said industry consultant Ed Desser, president of Desser Sports Media. “They can do what they want. Unless somebody is going to get so upset about it that they’re not going to be able to bid for rights next time around, their reaction is understandable.”

Network executives do not view the NFL’s Twitter deal when taken by itself as something that will hurt their business or viewership. Rather, they see the Twitter deal combined with the availability of in-game highlights on NFL.com and the Verizon deal as having the potential to dilute the TV product.

“The real premium value of the games to the networks right now is that they’re the best trick that the network has to introduce new shows,” said former NFL executive Frank Hawkins, who is a founding partner of media adviser Scalar Partners. “At some point, you make it too easy to view the NFL in bites and that value is going to erode.”

NFL executives acknowledge the complaints, but they point to the league’s strong TV ratings as evidence that these deals complement the broadcasts. Through the first four weeks of the current NFL season, Fox and NFL Network are reporting solid viewership gains, while CBS and ESPN are relatively flat. NBC’s numbers are down for “Sunday Night Football,” which was broadcast television’s highest-rated prime-time series the past two years.

“Over the last three or four years, we started to do in-progress highlights. Three or four years ago, we did the RedZone. These were all things that gave some angst to the broadcasters,” said Hans Schroeder, the league’s senior vice president of media strategy and development. “We look at all the metrics as they continue to evolve. As we try new distribution on new platforms, we’re mindful of the core business and want to see ratings growth.”

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