TV on Twitter

Starting this month, the Thursday night NFL football game is on Twitter. It’s the first time anything big on television has been simulcast on Twitter, so the idea took some getting used to. It wasn’t until week 3 that I remembered to tune in.

Where would I find the game? Well, never mind, I would just go to the Twitter web site and it would point me to the game page. In fact, it was a whole lot easier than tuning in a show on television. Click, click, click, click, watch. No need to look up a channel — it’s all right there on the web page. Television used to market itself on the basis of convenience, but I don’t think that holds up anymore. Clicking through channels is positively byzantine compared to the way the web works at its best.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I found that the Twitter broadcast was identical to the network broadcast of the game. When it came time for the station break, Twitter dropped in its own TV commercials where the local TV stations were doing the same thing. More than this is possible on the web, but you have to start somewhere, right?

I don’t watch television anymore so it might have been seven years since I had watched an NFL game live. I can only say that the quality of the broadcast has improved, most obviously with more and better cameras, but also with improvements in sound. The league had also improved the pacing of games, or that’s what it seemed to me. The low TV-quality video resolution didn’t stick out on a web where videos of varying resolution compete for your attention.

I watched the pregame show and first quarter only. I really don’t have time to be a TV viewer, and anyway, when the clock ran out on the first quarter, it was my bedtime. That was long enough to see that the Twittercast did not live up to its promises in one respect. Twitter had suggested you could tweet about the game while watching it. I don’t know about that. It seems to me that would be very hard to do. When I searched Twitter I saw sports journalists tweeting about the game but not a lot of tweets from fans. If I were to tweet something, what would I write? “It looked like a fumble to me”? Who would benefit from my opinion? And anyway, by the time I had written my tweet and someone out there had read it, the officials on the field would have worked out that it really was a fumble, or not. It makes sense that viewers weren’t tweeting very much.

But never mind the tweets, or the relative lack of them. The important thing is that it will be all but impossible for cable or over-the-air television to compete with the viewing experience of the web. It is not that people in the habit of watching cable will suddenly stop, but no one who has discovered TV on the web will go back to all the complexities of watching on TV, assuming they have a choice. Already in the United States subscription television viewership is declining at a rate of 1 percent per year, and before the industry knows what hit it the rate of decline will be 3 percent. Now that I’ve seen for myself how much simpler the web viewing experience is, I feel confident in saying that TV is not coming back.

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