Twitter's NFL Live-Stream Numbers 'Underwhelm' Some Sponsors

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Twitter promotes its schedule of NFL games.
Twitter promotes its schedule of NFL games. Credit: Twitter
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Twitter shouldn't do an NFL touchdown dance just yet, according to some advertisers.

The audience numbers have been called "underwhelming" by some sponsors of Twitter's live-streaming of Thursday Night Football. One agency executive said that a client who sponsored the games could even ask for "make-good" ad inventory during future programs.

"We're seeing a significant under-delivery from Twitter for our spots," the agency executive said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The problem is people aren't watching full games."

Other media buyers echoed that sentiment, saying that the viewer numbers were not impressive, yet.

Twitter may well see audiences grow. Stats are only in for its first two games, with audiences for last night's Cardinals-49ers matchup and seven more games still to be determined.

The second game delivered 327,000 average-minute viewers, a metric in line with how Nielsen measures TV. It got 2.2 million total "views," the measure commonly used in digital even if its definition varies. In this case it counts anyone who watches for even for a second.

The first game averaged 243,000 viewers and drew 2.1 million total views.

Another agency executive said Twitter had anticipated 500,000 average viewers, though it did not guarantee that.

One advertiser, Bank of America, said Twitter hit the numbers that were expected on its first game, delivering 2.1 million total views to the live-stream when it anticipated 1.5 million.

"I think we're feeling pretty good about it from a business standpoint," said Lou Paskalis, senior VP and enterprise media executive at Bank of America, told The Wall Street Journal in September. "I know we're feeling great about it from an experience standpoint."

Asked for comment on this article, a Twitter spokesman pointed to the Journal article and declined to comment further.

Viewers tuned in for an average of 22 minutes, the agency executive said. That's encouraging by the standards of web video. But it's perhaps one-third the amount of time that a TV buyer would expect someone to watch a football game the traditional way.

The brand client was expecting its commercials to be viewed three times by the average viewer, but the average viewer saw the ad only once, the exec said.

The problem is that the audience is good, but it's not TV-good, and that's where the expectations game may have burned some advertisers.

"If any brands expected them to have the kind of viewership seen on television, it's just not realistic," said another agency executive. "Our clients knew it was very much a test and not seen as being more profound than that."

However, Twitter has been trying to reinvigorate its sales by going more for TV advertising dollars, making its NFL packages a crucial test.

It asked for up to $8 million for season-long deals. In addition to Bank of America, sponsors include Ford, Nestlé, Anheuser Busch and Campbell's, though it is not known how much they paid.

The NFL live-stream is a polished video experience that's won praise for Twitter, and the ads appear to benefit.

Twitter has said that the ads have a 98% completion rate, which is an overwhelming number for TV-style commercials on a digital platform, where more common formats such as pre-roll struggle to keep viewers.

"That makes us really happy," Mr. Paskalis told the Journal.

The completion rates partly vindicate Twitter's gamble on NFL games, because it suggests that digital viewers will consume TV-style ads. On most digital platforms, consumers frequently skip or block video ads.

NFL ratings on TV this season, meanwhile, have had a soft start.

Contributing: Jeanine Poggi, Anthony Crupi

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said Twitter provided a statement from Bank of America's Lou Paskalis. Twitter only referred Ad Age to a Wall Street Journal article and highlighted Mr. Paskalis's quotes in it. Mr. Paskalis did not respond to requests for new comment before publication.