Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the most popular gamer on live-streaming service Twitch, last night provided his first play-by-play commentary in a co-stream of the National Football League’s “Thursday Night Football.” Twitch this year has provided live streams of the Thursday games as part of parent company Amazon’s two-year deal with the league for global digital rights to 11 games each season, Variety reported.
Ninja, who has 12 million followers on Twitch, was among game-casters including Jericho, TimTheTatman and GoldGlove in calling the game between the L.A. Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. Twitch shows the games at twitch.tv/primevideo, where viewers can post comments using custom NFL emoji and see digital overlays of statistics.
Twitch urged viewers to give to charity while watching the game, a new feature introduced for the NFL streams, per GeekWire. The company offered to donate $1 to United Way for every 100 “Bits” that viewers paid out during the game. Bits are Twitch’s virtual currency, with a starting price of $1.40 for 100 Bits, that let viewers show their support for streamers with tips.
The worlds of sports and esports are gradually colliding as popular videogamers get on board with providing play-by-play commentary on NFL games. The combination may help the league reach a younger audience of viewers who are canceling cable-TV subscriptions in favor of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. The average age of an NFL viewer rose by 4 years to 50 from 2006 to 2016, according to data from Magna Global cited by Sports Business Daily. In another crossover example, the NFL last month partnered with Epic Games to let Fortnite players pay to dress their gaming avatars in NFL team uniforms, according to Front Office Sports.
The NFL this year reversed three years of TV ratings declines, which may have been partly attributable to a Supreme Court decision in May to strike down a 1992 law prohibiting states from legalizing sports gambling. Despite the ratings gains, ad revenue for the league’s TV partners slumped 19% through the first two months of the season, according to Standard Media Index data. The decline is attributed to fewer ad breaks during games and ad rates that are set by prior-year trends, the Wrap reported.
Attracting younger esports fans — an attractive audience for advertisers — could help the NFL boost ad revenue. About three-fourths (70%) of Twitch fans dedicate more time to esports than traditional sports, according to researcher Nielsen. Less than 40% of Twitch esports fans said they watch TV on a weekly basis, while 50% have a paid-TV subscription. Esports continue to gain fans, with 23% of Twitch viewers saying they’re new to esports within the past year. More than 60% of Twitch esports fans engage with gaming personalities on a daily basis, according to Nielsen.
While Amazon has digital streaming rights to some live games, the NFL is seeking to reach audiences in China with other kinds of programming. The league and Youku, Alibaba Group’s video entertainment platform, partnered to stream game highlights and behind-the-scenes stories from NFL games in China, according to an announcement. Since 2013, the NFL has had an official merchandise flagship store on Alibaba’s Tmall, the biggest largest B2C marketplace in China with more than 600 million users.
Tech and platform developments