Twitter’s NFL livestream last night was fine, but could have been better if the feeds of tweets attached to it were better. Facebook’s Sports Stadium, released earlier this year, has been fine, but could be better if the play-by-play feed were closer to live. The two rival products should get married; they complete each other.
That will never happen. But Twitter and Facebook should each copy what the other has brought to the table (and don’t be mistaken: Twitter brings more to the table than rights to the NFL games, especially if you own an Apple TV and can use Twitter’s picture-in-picture-esque feature).
Imagine what it’d be like to tune into an NFL game on Twitbook’s Sports Stadium: You can watch the game on your phone, tablet or computer with a feed of commentary below it, or cast it to your internet-connected TV and either split-screen the game and feed or leave the game on the big screen and the feed on the small screen, like normal. But the commentary feed isn’t only posts from people you’re friends with or from people Twitbook thinks are worth seeing. It’s both and better. The main feed mixes your friends’ posts with posts from experts like professional athletes, reporters, celebrities, etc. as well as the best posts based on their content and not who sent them, like a creative Vine clip remixing Darrelle Revis getting Roadrunner-ed by Marquise Goodwin. But if you only want to see posts from your friends or from experts, you can swipe sideways and see those two specific feeds. And if you see a video clip in any of those feeds, you can tap it and it’ll play in place of the commentary feed, either on your phone or on your TV, so you don’t miss any of the live action.
I wish this were real. But it’s not.
Facebook’s Sports Stadium lets you see what your friends and only your friends are saying about a game or experts and only experts. But it doesn’t let you see the game. Meanwhile Twitter lets you see the game but makes you watch it with a bunch of strangers, too many of whom have little more to say than “YOOOOO I’m watching football on Twitter! #blessed.”
Both Facebook and Twitter have not-minor problems that can be solved. Facebook needs to get the rights to these games, which it tried to do this year but lost out to Twitter, and then find a way to get people talking about them on Facebook. Twitter needs to recenter itself around the reason it became the second screen for live sports in the first place.
If I wanted my normal Twitter-NFL watching experience on Thursday night, I couldn’t watch the game on Twitter.
Twitter’s NFL livestream forced an ultimatum on its audience. Watch the game you tweet about in the same place you tweet for free, but miss out on what your friends are tweeting. Or watch the game you tweet about where you normally watch it — on TV — and see what your friends are tweeting about the game on Twitter, but miss out on the future of live sports.
But here’s the thing. The future of live sports is already here. Watching games has always been a communal activity and one that extended to the internet years ago. Twitter’s NFL livestream didn’t change that; if anything, Twitter imposed limits on it by choosing for me who I could commune with.
I’m sure there are good reasons Twitter adopted its grab-bag commentary feed that was curated by actual people and computer algorithms. For starters, Twitter’s livestream wasn’t so much live as one-minute-behind live, so the curators could ensure the included tweets don’t spoil plays that haven’t hit the livestream. There’s also a marketing angle. If people think their tweets have a chance of being seen by anyone watching the livestream — and then getting liked and retweeted by lots of people — they may be more likely to tweet and to understand the value of Twitter, which could make them more regular Twitter users and maybe even advocates, all of which helps Twitter’s user-growth problem and which played a role in why Twitter wanted the NFL deal in the first place.
But Twitter doesn’t need to play curator. That role already belongs to its users and is why its platform got so popular in the first place. If someone has a fire take or a funny video, someone else will probably retweet it, and it will ripple out from there. That communal meritocracy — Twitter’s reason for being — wasn’t evident in Twitter’s NFL commentary feed.