Debates dominate the NFL on Twitter's live video stream

Twitter is capturing 15% of the NFL's TV audience, while only getting 5% for the historic debates

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
October 11, 2016
Short URL:

Much of the conversation around Twitter when it looked like it was on the verge of being acquired was focused on live video, its deal with the NFL to stream Thursday Night Football games. Disney, in particular, was likely interested in that aspect of the company, sinceTwitter would have been a natural platform for it to broadcast the Monday Night Football games that currently air on ESPN. 

Perhaps everyone was looking in the wrong direction, though. Maybe the real future for live video on Twitter is politics, not sports.

Twitter has live streamed the first two Presidential debates, and, surprisingly, the ratings have actually come out ahead of the numbers for its NFL games.

The second debate, which aired on Sunday, was watched by 3.2 million unique viewers on Twitter, an increase of 30 percent over the first debate, which reached 2.5 million unique viewers, the company has revealed

That happened even as the TV ratings for the debate dipped from a record breaking 84 million people watching the first debate on TV, to 66.5 million for the second, a 21 percent decrease.

In comparison, the first Thursday Night Football game of the year was watched by 2.3 million people on Twitter, and the numbers for week two rose 18 percent to 2.6 million, higher than the 13 percent increase in television viewers in the same time span.

The debates also beat the NFL broadcasts in the more important (to advertisers) average minute audience (AMA). For the first Presidential debate it was 344,000, which then rose 7 percent to 369,000 for debate number two.

For the NFL games, the AMA was 243,000 for the first game, then 327,000 for the second, an increase of 34 percent. 

Sports is still Twitter's best bet

If you go by both of those metrics, it looks like Twitter's future in live video should be putting its focus on news. That's probably isn't the best idea, though; even with record breaker numbers, Twitter live viewers just barely beat the NFL numbers.

The debates are special events, drawing, massive audiences, unparelleled for a new broadcast. Other similar type of events don't draw nearly as many viewers; President Obama's final State of the Union speech earlier this year, for example, was seen by 31.3 million people, or a little over a third of those who watched the first debate.

In fact, the last two State of the Union addresses have hit historic lows. Even President Obama's peak of 52.37 million, who watched his first address in 2009, don't anywhere close near the numbers for these debates.

Take into account the percentage of viewers who tuned in versus those who watched on television: for the first debate, Twitter saw less than 3 percent of the television audience, and for the second it was 4.8 percent.

If we extrapolate those same percentages of the audience for the State of the Union addresses to catch them on Twitter, roughly 4 percent, the latest address would only have attracted 1.25 million viewers. 

With the NFL games, on the other hand, the percentages are much higher, with Twitter capturing nearly 15 percent of the television audience for each of the first two Thursday Night Football games. 

Ultimately, while the debates are drawing bigger numbers, they're capturing a smaller percentage of the audience for what are no doubt going to be the highest rated political broadcasts for at least the next four years. It would be a mistake for Twitter to see these debate numbers and decide that future political broadcasts would see the same high numbers. 

(Image source:

Related news