Get ready for nonstop live video inside Twitter.
The company, which reports first quarter earnings Wednesday, plans to air live video 24 hours a day, 7 days a week inside its apps and desktop site, building on the 800+ hours it aired in the first three months of 2017, Twitter COO and CFO Anthony Noto told BuzzFeed News. Call it Twitter TV or The Twitter Network, the always-on realization of Twitter’s current live video offering of sports, news and entertainment programming is on its way.
“We will definitely have 24/7 [video] content on Twitter,” Noto said during an extensive interview about the company’s live video strategy last week. “Our goal is to be a dependable place so that when you want to see what’s happening, you think of going to Twitter.”
Noto's assertion follows the loss of Twitter's cornerstone NFL deal to Amazon. But despite losing the rights to stream the package of Thursday night games, Twitter is seeing enough benefit from live video to make it a pillar of its growth and revenue strategy. Live video is driving up conversation volume on the platform, Noto said, and it’s helping Twitter offer the type of 15- and 30-second unskippable video ads for which advertisers typically write big checks to TV networks.
Twitter will take some time to reach its 24/7 programming goal, Noto said, without offering a timetable. But he indicated much more programming in the works. “We’re working on many, many things,” Noto said. “There’s a lot in the pipeline.”
The engagement live video is driving on Twitter stems in part from the company’s decision to heavily promote it. Twitter is autoplaying videos inside its desktop site and airing them live from its relatively new Explore tab. And the company's decision to do so has resulted in some sizable viewership numbers. Twitter’s NFL package averaged 3.5 million unique viewers and its Oscars pre and post shows brought in a combined 6.4 million. Meanwhile, its live inauguration day coverage from PBS netted some 8.6 million unique viewers. (BuzzFeed partnered with Twitter on an Election Day show that drew about 7.7 million unique viewers.)
Next week, Twitter will pitch advertisers on the value of spending big bucks to reach its audience at its first ever NewFronts event. The company will introduce a handful of new shows in hopes of landing some big upfront ad buys from top-tier sponsors. Noto declined to go into detail about what’s coming.
First And Goal
Twitter loudly touted its 2016 NFL deal in press releases and earnings calls last year, so losing it to Amazon the following year wasn’t a great look. But the company has some ideas about other programming that might fill the NFL’s shoes — the Ultimate Fighting Championship. “We have a really big audience when there’s a pay-per-view UFC match," Noto said. "Should we provide that content to the audience on Twitter that’s not watching it, but might like to after seeing tweets about it? That’s something we’d consider."
“We have a really big audience when there’s a pay-per-view UFC match."
Meanwhile, the $10 million Twitter spent on last year’s NFL package should continue working for it even after Amazon airs a similar set of games for $50 million next season. Twitter’s NFL deal helped it plant a flag in the live video marketplace, letting programmers know it was dead serious about live, and demonstrating an infrastructure that could handle millions of viewers tuning in at once.
“It was instrumental [in generating additional interest],” Noto said of the NFL deal, declining to comment on the premium Amazon seems to have paid for it. “It’s a really high-profile brand and one that has really high expectations for product quality. It caused people to come and see if we could deliver.”
One entity that took notice of Twitter’s NFL deal was 120 Sports — a joint venture between MLB Advanced Media, the National Hockey League, and a handful of other big sports media brands and leagues. 120 Sports began airing a sports highlights show called The Rally exclusively on Twitter in September 2016, and its CEO Jason Coyle said the company's NFL deal played a role in the decision to do so. “We could see that our deal was not going to be a one off,” Coyle told BuzzFeed News. “We didn't want to just throw the show out there exclusively with a partner that wasn’t that serious about growing.”
Shows like The Rally — a cheap-to-produce, laid-back version of ESPN’s Sportscenter — give Twitter the less polished, less expensive programming it needs to fill its airtime. Noto said the company will always look for a combination of ultra-premium content and not-so-ultra-premium content. So Twitter needs Rally-like programming. Indeed, it’s already airing similarly not-so-ultra-premium shows from financial news network Cheddar and the NBA, which is now programming a sports talk show called The Starters exclusively for Twitter.
From Twitter’s perspective, becoming a source of always-on-in-the-background video in the way that CNBC is in airports would be a great outcome. “We think that is a great way to have the programming carried along with you during your day,” Noto said. “Focus in on it when you hear something that’s of interest, but then maybe not be 100% focused on it when it’s not of interest. I did that myself during the debates.”
That kind of video falls into a category Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners calls “ambient digital video,” which he believes exploits a gap left by digital video services like Netflix and HBO Now that are always looking for your full attention. Liew told BuzzFeed News in an email that Twitter may have hit on a potentially big opportunity here. “If Twitter can own this use case, it may be a complement to the Netflix and Amazon use cases,” he said.