Twitter has inked a deal with Comcast to allow users to access and record live TV through tweets. In the announcement, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts calls the feature "an instant online remote control," but the deal is more than that: It's a brazen attempt by Twitter to become a new video layer for the internet.
The deal is an obvious coup for Twitter, helping to position the network as the de facto internet complement to television (this is, for better or worse, its primary advertising plan). But it's also a way for Twitter to wire itself into the fabric of the internet in a more permanent way, and to provide insurance against fickle social media trends; an attempt to not just attach itself to, but to serve as the foundation for, some of the the most important and popular content on the internet: professional video.
Video embeds have had vexed networks for as long as they've existed. Clips buried in proprietary players are not only hard to share, they have a tendency to disappear; if a TV clip isn't immortalized (relatively) on a major third party, it could vanish without a moment's notice. YouTube and Vimeo solved this problem for content that originates on the internet, but TV networks were reluctant to sign over too much power to Google. Hulu was a step in the right direction, but its complex web of content deals and seemingly ephemeral content — embeddable, but often posted late and for a short time — is rarely at the center of the TV conversation.
This is the gap that Twitter hopes to fill. Twitter-embedded video is portable, inherently social, and reliable, as almost everyone already supports Twitter embeds. It doesn't guarantee longevity, but at least it supplies context.
This is a natural step for the service, which has transitioned from a fairly raw list of text into a constant stream of multimedia units, or "Cards." A glance at the newest iteration of Twitter's Discover tab shows just how far this transformation has come — it's almost rare to see a naked tweet from a company or brand, stripped of a card via a link, picture, or video.
Since Cards' introduction, Twitter has experimented with packing more and more media inside them. Last December the company began partnering with networks and brands to deliver video-laden tweets during college football games through its Amplify program. Currently, Twitter hosts dozens of "dual-screen partnerships" with networks like A&E and Discovery, pairing in-tweet video clips with sponsors directly into your feed.
With See It, Twitter is simply adding another layer — a universally supported one — and it's added the option of watching live TV.
This wouldn't be the first time a company has tried to provide a unified, embeddable platform for premium, non-web video. In 2008, Redlasso, a popular video startup that promised near-total access to television clips, was sued by major television networks for copyright infringement. Though the company tried to smooth things over with the industry, hiring a former CBS executive as a corporate liaison, the networks ultimately forced Redlasso to shutter its site. It assumed it could act first, and ask for permission later.
Twitter, however, doesn't need to make assumptions like that. It's already pursued a long courtship with the television industry. The company has positioned itself as not only a companion to the TV networks but as a life raft of sorts, with the potential to bolster sagging ratings by delivering a generally young, highly engaged army of tweeting viewers. Whether that's actually possible is far from a given.
In Twitter's case, however, it's hard to see the partnership as anything other than a huge victory. The ultimate hope for Twitter is this: If you want to embed TV anywhere, you're going use our site. Twitter's conversation would supplement your content — your content will exist inside Twitter's conversation.
And it's not hard to envision television that's structured more explicitly for the internet and tilted toward its sensibilities. Imagine it: Scenes and segments optimized to become viral videos, not just to fill a time slot. Shots set up and framed to create the perfect GIF. And an army of TV writers, bloggers, and obsessives who'll not only love but depend on Twitter to provide a consistent gateway through which to find and watch the videos. It's a big "if," but a highly fathomable one too.