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Twitter lost its NFL streaming deal but says it’s still committed to live TV

Football and Donald Trump couldn’t help Twitter’s cause in 2016.

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Andy Lyons / Getty

Twitter will not stream the National Football League’s “Thursday Night Football” games this fall — Amazon will instead, announcing a new $50 million deal with the league late Tuesday night.

That’s bad news for Twitter. Not necessarily because those NFL streams drove a lot of new users (they didn’t) or generated a lot of money (they didn’t), but because that NFL partnership was the cornerstone of Twitter’s livestreaming video strategy that it has been pushing to investors for almost a year.

Twitter’s pitch has been that Twitter is about “live,” and there’s nothing more real-time than live sports. Partnering with the NFL boosted Twitter’s reputation as a serious livestreaming option for other rights holders.

But now the NFL is gone, and the question for Twitter is this: Is its livestreaming video strategy still a good idea?*

The metrics say no. Twitter had two of the most popular TV programs of 2016 streaming live on its service — NFL football and the presidential debates (which really meant people tuning in to see Donald Trump). Neither led to significant user growth for Twitter and, as far as we can tell, neither led to meaningful ad revenue growth, either. (Twitter didn’t break out livestreaming video revenue on its latest earnings call, but it did miss Wall Street revenue estimates.)

Which is all to say it’s unclear where Twitter goes from here. There are no significant sports rights available right now, with most major leagues locked into massive TV contracts for the better part of the next decade.

Not that it necessarily matters. If Donald Trump and the biggest sport in America didn’t move Twitter’s numbers, and the rest of Twitter’s livestreaming deals are not must-see TV, then operating as a digital TV service may not be the best approach.

* Update: A Twitter spokesperson sent Recode the following statement, which says that Twitter does indeed plan to continue its push into livestreaming.

Since last year, we have collaborated on over 40 live stream partnerships and we will continue to bring the best live content to our customers around the world. In Q1 2017, we aired more than 800 hours of live stream content from over 400 events across sports, news, politics and entertainment. The NFL was a great partner to launch our strategy and we will continue to work with them to bring great content to our passionate sports fans.

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