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Twitter, YouTube, Amazon and Verizon are competing for streaming rights to the NFL’s ‘Thursday Night Football’

It’s likely that the NFL will sign a multiyear deal.

Two Dallas Cowboys football players high-five one another in the end zone after a touchdown while a Washington Redskins player slumps in defeat. Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Several tech companies are in the running to win digital streaming rights for the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” package.

Twitter, Amazon, YouTube and Verizon are the remaining bidders, according to multiple sources. Twitter paid $10 million for these digital streaming rights from the NFL in 2016; Amazon won them in 2017 for $50 million, with the latest renewal going for much more.

Verizon is an existing NFL partner and already owns some mobile streaming rights for Thursday. YouTube is the only company without a prior streaming relationship with the league, though CEO Susan Wojcicki said just this week that she would “love to stream the NFL.”

It’s unclear what kind of price the NFL is looking for in 2018, though multiple sources say the league is likely to strike a multiyear deal. The NFL just sold the television broadcast rights for “Thursday Night Football” to Fox Sports for $3.3 billion, roughly $660 million per year over five years, according to ESPN.

That was almost a 47 percent premium over the $450 million NBC and CBS paid to broadcast 10 “Thursday Night Football” games in 2017, though Fox is also getting rights to broadcast the NFL draft as part of that deal, and may still get rights to an NFL playoff game.

There could be a wrinkle in the fight for 2018 digital rights, though. One source says Amazon is considering dropping its bid because of concerns over new terms in the proposed contract that could limit its viewership. It’s also unclear how long a deal would be. Bloomberg, which also reported on the proposed deal, said some partners are looking for as many as five years. The NFL could be looking for a shorter deal.

An NFL spokesperson declined to comment. Representatives for Twitter and Amazon declined to comment. YouTube and Verizon could not immediately be reached for comment.

It’s unknown what these terms are that Amazon is concerned over, though it’s highly unlikely that the NFL would do anything to actively limit the total viewership for the games — it wants as many viewers as possible.

But the league is known to divide up its rights to numerous partners, which could limit an individual partner’s reach by simply spreading the content around. Both Verizon and Fox have mobile streaming rights to games, for example, and the NFL draft will now appear on Fox Sports, ESPN and the NFL Network.

All of this interest comes at a time when the NFL’s television audience is shrinking. NFL ratings were down 13 percent in 2017 and even more during the playoffs.

And while Amazon’s digital audience for “Thursday Night Football” was up last year over Twitter’s the year prior, that audience is just a small fraction of what the NFL can get on TV. An early season game between the Bears and Packers last season drew an average of 373,000 viewers on Amazon, for example. The same game had a TV audience of 14.6 million people.

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