Twitter hopes to get its groove back with live programming push

Twitter wants to take a slice of the digital video advertising pie that Facebook and Google have been largely enjoying for themselves by becoming a 24/7 live streaming social video network. Twitter revealed its ambitious new plans to go all in on its content strategy during the company’s first NewFront presentation.

Twitter announced some 16 new content partners this week, ranging from sports to news and entertainment. And in order to differentiate itself from Facebook and YouTube, Twitter’s content strategy will continue to focus on live content – because, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said, Twitter is a “live” platform that brings information about what’s happening around the world to its users in near-real time.

Twitter invested heavily in live content last year, in a strategy that culminated in landing NFL for Thursday Night Football. Twitter paid a rumored $10 million to live stream one NFL game a week during the 2016 season in a move that both parties considered experimental, though Twitter received a hefty dose of skepticism that the money was well spent.

The NFL deal gave Twitter an opportunity to test out its live streaming chops, as did the following live streams of the US presidential debates. The simultaneous streaming audience averages of between 250,000 to 370,000 for its events, were small but not insignificant, and reports indicate most of the events streamed relatively smoothly on Twitter’s platform. Now, the company is ready to expand its live content ambitions.

Live streaming content on Twitter’s platform has grown from 500 total hours streamed in Q4 2016 to more than 800 hours of content live streamed in the first quarter of 2017. And the company will continue to ramp up its live streaming content throughout 2017 with its new programming partners.

The new programming includes Live Nation music concerts and exclusive content; live fashion shows and coverage during the fashion weeks in New York, Paris, Milan, London and other cities; original news programming from Bloomberg, BuzzFeed, The Verge and Cheddar, a digital financial news Web channel; and the sports content includes weekly MLB games and original content, NFL highlights and pre-game series, PGA Tour competitions and originals, weekly WNBA games, original content covering collegiate sports, and programming that connects athletes to fans. Both Nike and Wendy’s are sponsors to some of the programming.

One of the larger goals for Twitter is, of course, to attract more advertising dollars to its platform. Twitter has struggled to find its groove in the emerging live digital video ecosystem, but the platform has made some good progress in the last couple of quarters.

According to Zenith Media, Twitter is now the fastest-growing advertising media owner and has increased its ad revenue by 734% since 2012. And after making some improvements to the company’s advertising platform and business, it’s been able to grow its ad sector, which in turn has helped grow its programming ambitions.

“We have a very unique pitch to advertisers,” Dorsey said during the company’s quarterly earnings call last week. “We think we’re the best at driving brand perception and the reason why we think we’re the best at driving brand perception is first and foremost Twitter is what’s happening, what’s being talked about and that’s incredibly important.”

There’s some early data to indicate that its new content strategy is working, which bodes more favorably to the prospect of Twitter actually pulling off its digital media dreams. Twitter has a perennial user growth problem, but during the first quarter of 2017, the company was able to grow its monthly base by some 9 million global users, and 3 million in the US alone.
During the first quarter of 2017, Twitter live streamed some 450 events to 45 million unique viewers, and over half of those viewers were 25 years of age or younger – which is a prime age demographic for advertisers. It also signed programming deals with ESL and DreamHack, Mainichi Shimbun, France Télévisions, Sky Sports, Time Inc, Billboard, IMDb, Condé Nast, and GLAAD during the quarter.

“We couldn’t be happier with the performance of our live streaming content strategy,” said Anthony Noto, who serves as CFO and COO at Twitter. “The advertising product itself is doing incredibly well, with 95% completion rates, in a familiar format for advertising partners, and it’s differentiated unlike any of our competitors.”
And luckily for Twitter, advertisers are taking notice. “We signed 32 additional upfront deals since our last earnings call,” Noto said. “While these represent a small portion of our total expected revenue, we’re seeing momentum in the number of upfront commitments signed.”

The final challenge to Twitter’s content success will be in getting its users to actually seek out video on the platform, rather than looking for video on, say, Facebook or YouTube. “We have 800 hours of live streaming product on the platform that starts to build habit and it starts to build ways to drive natural discovery,” Noto said. “We’re just getting better at being able to drive discovery and there’s a long roadmap that will make that better and better every day.”