Social media naturally compliments the TV experience, by bringing people closer together around TV shows and live events. During primetime there are few days when at least one TV show or TV event is not trending on Twitter. This is particularly true for coverage of sports – which comprise somewhere between 2-3% of TV programming in any given month, but generate close to 50% of Twitter activity. So how is Twitter changing the TV industry and what exactly is Twitter Amplify?
Twitter is an open platform by design and as such the nature of conversations on Twitter are closely aligned with real-time events (and TV is a key driver of conversation in both the online and offline world). The big spikes in Twitter conversations when headline sports events, live shows and major dramas air on TV are redolent of this, with spikes closely following the cadence of the TV show storyline or event in question. However, enabling and driving TV conversation is only one element of Twitter’s social TV ambitions.
Twitter and Social TV
Twitter is also a two-way communication mechanism. There are numerous examples of TV production companies and broadcasters using tweets from viewers to influence production (such as the live social wall on Got To Dance or questions from the audience for Question Time or What’s The Story on Sky Sports). This is engaging and rewarding for the few people that get their tweet on TV and five minutes of fame – but it is not scalable (or indeed relevant) across every format. More collaborative examples are those where Twitter is used a voting platform to influence the outcome of a TV production – such as live social voting for the winners of Got To Dance, or a live Twitter vote for the Best British Music Video award (won by One Direction, a nod to influence of its huge community of Twitter followers) and even voting for alternative endings on Hawaii 5-0 on CBS (which fed directly into the live broadcast production).
Given the broad audience awareness and engagement with voting for TV reality shows and talent contests (as far back as 1997 for the Eurovision Song Contest but more broadly popularised by Pop Idol in 2001 in the UK), social voting looks like a scalable opportunity for the TV mainstream given the current penetration of user adoption across the major social networks.
The most interesting developments are more recent, using Twitter as a discovery platform for premium content and a media destination in its own right. This development is driven by Twitter Cards, which enable users to see photos and videos in line within their Twitter feed (as well as other features such as commerce and lead-generation). Changes to the Twitter user interface, both for web and mobile, have brought this content to the forefront and will help drive mass market appeal by reducing the opacity of the platform for those consumers that are put off by Twitter’s unique terminology and conversation mechanics (e.g. followers, hashtags, @symbols and shortened URLs).
There is also the opportunity to use Twitter conversation to drive TV discovery and tune-in, highlighted by the launch of SeeIT™ in the United States by ComCast. ComCast has enabled the US networks, led by NBC Universal, to leverage the viral distribution of tweets (that carry TV show information) to drive users to tune-in immediately via an app on their smartphone or tablet, or to record a show to their (ComCast Xfinity) personal video recorder (PVR) at home. Given the volume of TV conversation on Twitter, and the opportunity for users to discover and share their favourite TV shows with friends simply by clicking a link or hitting retweet, this could be very successful.
However, one of the key challenges with using Twitter for content discovery on TV is to ensure the mechanic can work across all channels and formats, and address the long tail of content on television. The major shows generate the most noise and will therefore surface most frequently, but most TV viewers or sports fans are unlikely to need a million people on Twitter to tell them that the Super Bowl has started? Content filtering and pushing of contextual TV-related tweets to interested users may be a mechanism to help solve this problem using technology – we wait to see Twitter’s next move in this space.
By far the most interesting development, however, is Twitter Amplify…
Twitter Amplify: The Ad-Funded Distribution Model For Content
Twitter Amplify allows broadcasters and rights holders to share live TV clips and video content into Twitter in real-time, giving users the opportunity to watch the videos without leaving Twitter. It also drives viral distribution and discovery of that content, as Twitter users retweet their favourite clips and push them out to their own followers, extending the reach of the videos more broadly. However, the most important aspect of Twitter Amplify (and the piece which is often misunderstood) is that it allows content owners to use paid media support from sponsors and advertising partners to fund the distribution of their content across Twitter.
One of the challenges when distributing (and consuming) video on Twitter is that many consumers have ‘fast’ feeds – active users follow lots of other Twitter users and see hundreds of posts moving through their feed every time they open the Twitter app. With tweets passing rapidly through the feed, it’s easy to miss a video tweet from a broadcaster or one posted against a hashtag. Twitter Amplify makes it possible to ‘pin’ the video tweet to the visible part of the feed so the user is more likely to see it and engage with it.
Moreover, if a broadcaster sends a tweet from its own Twitter account, it can target only the people that are following that account (i.e. its ‘organic reach’). However, when a sponsor runs a paid campaign with Twitter Amplify, it can target anyone tweeting about that topic or content at that time, or any other user who may be interested in the content (because they have followed a relevant account, tweeted against a particular hashtag or discussed an associated topic in their feed). Therefore, broadcasters can ensure their video tweets are seen and use paid media distribution (Twitter Amplify) to extend this reach to a much wider and relevant demographic. Indeed this audience can be many times the size of their existing (organic) reach – potentially the entire audience of Twitter.
Furthermore, paid media Amplify campaigns encourage extended viral distribution as Twitter users (that do not follow the broadcaster or rights holder directly) discover these new video tweets in their feed, pushed to them via promoted tweets. If the content is relevant (which is the role of the targeting variables provided via the Twitter advertising platform) then these additional users will go on to share the video tweets to their own followers, driving a second wave of viral distribution and greater earned media value for the broadcaster and brand.
By enabling broadcasters to have this extended social reach paid for by a brand sponsor – one that wants to align itself with the premium content and push its campaign message across social platforms – Twitter Amplify represents a highly compelling ad-funded distribution model for content. Interestingly, 72% of real-time video clips plays across Twitter and Facebook occur across mobile devices – so it is also a highly effective way for broadcasters, and brands, to reach consumers across mobile devices.
Broadcasters can also use real-time video to promote new shows and other relevant formats to their audience (using the media assets which accompany the videos, such as pre/post roll advertising to drive awareness of upcoming shows). It can also be used to drive interactivity such as voting, betting, and payments and, for pay TV customers, sell additional packages, upgrades and content services. Ultimately the value of the data that broadcaster’s are able to gain from Twitter Amplify could do much more. With access to the likes and dislikes or Twitter users, broadcasters could target viewers with personalised adverts and sponsorship campaigns.
With all the major US networks signed up to Twitter Amplify and European broadcasters now following suit, it will be fascinating to see how broadcasters monetise real time videos on Twitter Amplify over the coming months and with 1.2 billion users around the world, it should also be fascinating to see how Facebook responds.