Livestreaming on Canadian Twitter feeds will soon include sports, food and pop culture. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Twitter unveils new livestreaming deals as telecoms aim to lure in new audiences

TORONTO — Sports 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 programs about sports in addition to 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 Feb. 2018, despite being founded in Mar. 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.

“It will be a slow evolution, but over time the way you consume content from a social platform will very different and more intensive than television today.”

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