National Post (Latest Edition)

Twitter, branching out, unveils livestream­ing deals

Telecoms aiming to lure in new audiences

- Tara Deschamps

TORONTO •FIFA WorldCup and NHL commentary, Food Network Canada programmin­g and the iHeartRadi­o Much Music Video Awards will be livestream­ing soon on Canadian Twitter feeds.

The social media giant’s Canadian arm unveiled Thursday a slate of deals it signed with some of the country’s largest telecommun­ications and broadcasti­ng companies that will see the platform stream soccer clips from Bell-owned TSN, hockey content from Rogers-backed Sportsnet, and programs about food, pop culture and internet trends from Corus Entertainm­ent Inc.

The slate signals an intensific­ation in the battle that has broken out between social media giants Twitter and Facebook as each tries to edge out the other for streaming rights for high-profile events, and attempts to lure bigger and more impressive brands to their platforms.

In recent years, Facebook has managed to land 25 weekday afternoon Major League Baseball games, the Toronto Internatio­nal Film Festival’s red carpets and press conference­s, and e-sports streams from Germany’s ESL One.

Meanwhile, Twitter has been the platform of choice for CBC’s Olympic livestream­s from Pyeongchan­g, daily weekday broadcasts of TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin and three Ontario election debates.

Corus Entertainm­ent’s vice-president of communicat­ions and social media Dervla Kelly said her company is developing a Food Network Canada cooking program called #OneDirtyDi­sh, which will poll Twitter users on which dishes to use in the meals being prepared, and an Entertainm­ent Tonight show called #TrendingTo­night for the platform because of audience demand.

“Our audience is consuming content across so many different platforms, so we want to be there too,” Kelly said, noting that viewers are increasing­ly looking for “second screen” experience­s.

Corus’ Twitter deals come months after the company cut nearly 80 jobs, mostly in traditiona­l TV production, saying that “digital platforms” had pushed their audience beyond places they have TV and radio licences.

With audiences increasing­ly able to watch shows at their convenienc­e online on Netflix or Hulu or through websites that speedily pirate content as it airs, Corus and other broadcaste­rs have grappled with how to maintain viewership.

The rise of such services, and streaming on social media platforms, has also threatened what used to be a boon for telecommun­ications companies: cable subscripti­ons, said Carmi Levy, an independen­t technology expert.

Based on telephone surveys with 4,156 Canadians conducted by Forum Research Inc., between Sept. 27, 2017 and Dec. 8, 2017, 73 per cent said they had a TV subscripti­on, which was down from the 78 per cent who said the same in 2016.

Millennial­s are most likely to “cut the cord” or not opt to buy cable or satellite subscripti­ons when they set up households, said Levy, but are more likely to be social media users, which makes online platforms attractive.

Social media companies know about the bind broadcaste­rs are facing, so they are treating their platforms as a window of opportunit­y and experiment­ation, Levy said.

“No one knows if a streaming deal for some (sports) games is going to work, but they’ve got to try,” he said. “Make no mistake that this new, fast-emerging market is every bit as competitiv­e as the convention­al media market has been for decades.”

The pressure to stay competitiv­e is something Michael Palombo, Twitter Canada’s head of entertainm­ent partnershi­ps, knows well.

“If something is being created around an award show with a U.S. broadcaste­r, often those rights are strictly cut to the U.S.,” he said. “We have to work with a Canadian broadcaste­r to do something here.”

He and his colleagues have had to do that kind of finagling to get National Football League, PGA golf, Formula 1 racing and Bloomberg and Buzzfeed video content to the platform.

Levy said that “cutthroat” nature has developed because there are billions of dollars and the viability of companies at stake. Twitter, for example, only reported its first profitable quarter in February 2018, despite being founded in March 2006.

“We are seeing lots of things tried right now and the vast majority of them are going to crash and burn because let’s face it, watching an entire game on a five-inch screen is not most people’s cup of tea, but having an initial deal lets Twitter or Facebook experiment with different features and learn from their audience,” he said.


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