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Twitter's new Project Lightning could involve livestreaming major sporting events


When the NFL decided to make history this season by broadcasting one of its games solely on the Internet, Yahoowon the bid to live-stream the Week 7 contest between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars. But in an interesting twist, Yahoo faced competition from an Internet upstart that is seeking a bigger name in real-time events: Twitter.

The microblogging service's bid on the game, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, would have been part of a recently revealed initiative to make Twitter a destination for users and non-users alike major breaking-news events.

Project Lightning, which BuzzFeed revealed in an exclusive behind-the-scenes story, will "bring event-based curated content to the Twitter platform, complete with immersive and instant-load photos and videos and the ability to embed those experiences across the Web."

The Journal expanded on Project Lightning with more information on how it will work.

In the project’s current form, a “live” tab, with a lightning bolt icon, will be placed on Twitter’s mobile app. Clicking on the icon will take a user to a guide of “events” that could include the premiere of a TV show, an NFL game, or a breaking-news event such as election results. Tapping on an event will surface full-screen views of videos, photos and tweets related to that topic — unlike the waterfall of tweets that currently appear in users’ timelines. Twitter said it will add editors to determine what content will go into the collections.

The design suggests a tweet aggregator for scheduled events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars and for breaking-news situations, like the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, where people want accurate real-time information.

“It’s a brand-new way to look at tweets,” Kevin Weil, a senior vice president at Twitter, told BuzzFeed. “This is a bold change, not evolutionary.”

Landing that Bills-Jaguars certainly would certainly have qualified as bold.

Though the NFL ultimately chose Yahoo—Re/code estimated that the company paid $20 million for the rights to broadcast the game and receive all the ad revenue—Twitter played up its huge audience (about 1 billion people see its tweets) and reportedly proposed a revenue split with the league.

The Journal writes that the NFL received about 12 serious bids, at least two of which proposed the idea of a pay-per-view livestream. While Twitter's bid didn't win, its "participation could perhaps keep it in the running for other content deals, such as the rights to broadcast live in-game highlights from the Jaguars-Bills matchup, which are still up for grabs."

“There’s a beautiful connection to our strategy of reaching users on every platform,” Weil said. “It’s not just logged-in Twitter, it’s logged-out, and it’s syndicated on other websites and mobile apps. This reaches all of them. The collections are a core part of our logged-in experience — that’s the point of being in the center tab. But you can easily imagine them as logged-out experiences telling about something happening now out in the world. And you can imagine them — and this is new — as collections and syndicating them across any website or mobile app.”

Illustration by Max Fleishman

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