Football, in America, is a ritual as much as it is a sport. Shouting, beer-drinking, backseat coaching, rivalry-ing, eating chicken wings that are fried and basted and dipped in liquid cheese, gathering in bars and living rooms and focusing on the drama playing out on a single screen—these are all part of the ceremony. So, for that matter, are cheerleaders. And fantasy leagues. And the national anthem. The NFL, through all of this—its emphasis on community, and rivalry, and America—is itself a kind of imagined community.
In that sense, it’s both big news and small that, on Thursday, Twitter—the simultaneously mega-popular and financially beleaguered social network—rolled out a new way to watch professional football: on one’s phone, or tablet, or computer. Via the platform of Twitter itself. (Viewing options included not just Twitter’s mobile app and its website, but also Twitter’s partner site, SI.com, and the Twitter app on Apple TV.) Last night, firing up the social network and clicking the “watch LIVE” button would yield you a screen streaming the AFC East rivalry game between the Jets and the Bills.
The game streamed just as it appeared on CBS, commentary and all, only with a few-second delay. Which meant that the most obvious difference between the TV and Twitter viewing experiences was the ads: While CBS aired commercials for Ford, Corona, Adidas, and the upcoming premiere of the (CBS) show MacGyver, Twitter “aired” ads for Verizon, Straight Talk Wireless, and Xbox Live—digital services, in other words, put before a digital audience. There was also the fact that, on Twitter, the viewing experience included the option to see the tweets that had been tagged with #TNF (short for Thursday Night Football), #NYJvsBUF, and the like. (And it was a good one! As Re/code noted, Twitter’s NFL feed—curated by both humans and an algorithm—“did a nice job of keeping it clean, especially after a less-than-stellar experience during its Wimbledon stream earlier this year.”)