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Why Video Streaming Could Save Twitter

People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logoPeople holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo
REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration/File Photo - RTX2QA9XKacper Pempel—Reuters

Twitter’s (TWTR) recent deal with Live Nation (LYV), allowing it to exclusively broadcast live streams of concerts, including those of the Zac Brown Band, Train, and Marian Hill, shows the importance that the company now places on live video content in addition to its traditional text output.

The deal is unique in that despite losing out to Amazon (AMZN) for the right to broadcast live NFL Thursday Night Football, the company says that it still has some 200 premium live video partnerships. It gets to show events as prestigious as the MTV Awards and fashion weeks in New York, Paris, Milan, and London.

So what’s going on? Why is a platform best known for the shortest form of content possible expanding into video content that could last for hours?

Twitter has always been a strange idea. The 140-character limit was dictated by the requirements of SMS messaging, but the platform quickly outgrew those restrictions. There’s no technical reason at all now that tweets should be so short. But any attempt to expand those limits is always met with resistance. Part of what makes Twitter unique is the need for brevity, and while there are ways around those restrictions—through reply threads and chunks of text turned into images—the only change to the limits that Twitter has successfully managed to introduce is the exclusion of @names from the character count.

Except for one other change, which is the nature of the content itself, Twitter started with nothing but short bursts of text. Even the ability to add images was added by TwitPic, a third party. Twitter’s purchase of Periscope, a live video app, for $86 million in 2015, and the embedding of Periscope’s features into Twitter itself at the end of 2016 showed that the company was serious about giving users a whole new kind of content experience.

“It’s all in the same,” Twitter’s CMO Leslie Berland told the Interactive Advertising Bureau. “It’s all about storytelling.”

Despite Berland’s assertion, the answer isn’t the storytelling. It’s the discussion of the story. Twitter comes alive most when users are reacting to an event that happens off Twitter: a sports game, election results, a news event. Twitter is a second screen, the communication tool that viewers use to discuss the content they’re watching on the big screen in the living room. Twitter’s strategy now is to offer a single-screen solution. Users will be able to watch the event itself on the platform, and, without looking away, join an online conversation about that event. By broadcasting the event, Twitter is involved in the entire story, both the topic and the discussion of that topic.

For advertisers, that’s hugely valuable. Fashion brands looking to reach people interested in New York Fashion Week, for example, will be able to both place video ads on the streams showing the event and insert themselves into the conversations about the event. The advertising can be much more interactive—and for Twitter, much more lucrative. For a company that’s struggled to expand its user base and whose advertising revenues have been left in the dust by Facebook, its much bigger rival, it’s a very attractive strategy.


So we can expect to see even more of these deals. We can expect to see Twitter continue to expand from a discussion platform to a broadcasting network with the social discussion we have become accustomed to. And we can also expect Twitter to continue to place more resources in its live video features for users. Paying for licenses to broadcast high-quality, live video content might be a good strategy, but the amount of content available is limited, and Amazon has shown that there’s plenty of competition for the broadcast rights. What Twitter has that Amazon lacks is millions of users with their own followers and a video camera in their pockets.

Despite the regular rumors, the 140-character text limit isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But those tweets will increasingly be about the live video that Twitter is broadcasting. If Twitter can successfully pivot to broadcast network, it wouldn’t be surprising for an acquisition by one of the big six media companies.

Joel Comm is a live video marketing expert and author of Twitter Power 3.0: How to Dominate Your Market One Tweet at a Time.