Twitter becomes TV broadcaster: why this strategy is doomed to failure

by bold-lichterman

By offering live events broadcasting, Twitter is changing the paradigm. Until then a platform that allowed others to communicate, Twitter is now seeking to attract an audience of its own. This strategy serves neither the users nor its partners.

Twitter is continuing its live streaming strategy. The microblogging site has just concluded a new agreement for air three Bloomberg shows.

This follows its recent announcements to acquire the rights to broadcast major US events. In 2016, Twitter will stream 10 Thursday night American football matches, co-distribute the conventions Democrat and Republican, and would also negotiate with the NBA and MLS (football) …

This summer, the social network has already carried out tests by broadcasting the ESPN trays during Wimbledon. The idea behind the acquisition of sports rights would therefore be to broadcast the event on one side of the screen, and the associated tweets on the other. See below :


Attractive on paper – Twitter becoming a real medium and no longer a content aggregator – this strategy seems expensive and futile.

1- Twitter brings nothing more to the user

Twitter is THE medium of the snapshot. In this area, it devours news channels and news agencies. It is the place of conversation during “community” events (sports, conferences, TV programs), even national (attacks, elections). But outside of the hot news, Twitter is struggling to exist.

We understand, therefore, his need to develop his “event power” outside the dramatic upsurges of current affairs. Especially since its competitors attack it on the instantaneous: Snapchat in the first place, especially with a young target, and Facebook with its Live tool.

But still THE main question: what is the benefit for the user?

Twitter posts regularly, and for many years, studies which show that most Twitter users, in front of their TV screens, zap with one hand and tweet with the other. This was the very principle of the beIN Center on BeIN Sport 2 during the Euro, for example. If the television viewer is already doing this on his sofa, with his phone in his hand AND enjoying the game on the big screen, what is the point for him to divide his screen in two? Even more so if this screen is that of his smartphone (90% of videos seen on Twitter are on mobile).

Gaining new users through American football matches broadcast on a half-phone seems utopian.

2- Television needs Twitter less than television’s Twitter

Yes, Twitter impacts TV audiences, but TV audiences impact Twitter even more.

In 2013 study, Nielsen proved a correlation between an increase in the volume of tweets and an increase in TV audiences. But Nielsen also insists that correlation does not prove causation. Moreover, according to a study (2013) by the firm NPA Consulting, this influence remains limited. A Twitter buzz of 10% (10% of all tweets produced during this period) would result in only 1 TV audience point.

Another Nielsen study shows TV’s reciprocal influence on Twitter. The audience of a linear TV program (seen by all viewers at the same time) was influenced by Twitter in 29% of the episodes studied. But the TV audience had an impact on the volume of tweets in 48% of the programs.


The balance of power is therefore perhaps not what Twitter suggests.

3- Traditional media need … Twitter data, not media

In 2013, Twitter buys start-up Bluefin Labs which associates the measurement of TV audience with the behavior of Twittos. That same year, Twitter formed a partnership with Nielsen to establish a barometer of Twitter conversations in relation to TV programs (Twitter TV Ratings).

Because this is the most valuable thing Twitter has to offer to players in the old media that is television: data. Who is talking about my program? In what terms?

This year too, Twitter launches Amplify for advertisers and the media: this tool gives them the possibility to stream (sponsored) videos of a TV program in the Twitter stream.


A product that clearly competed with YouTube and which pushed Twitter to take only 30% of the revenue generated by this service, against 45% at YouTube. And not a great success despite that.

4- Twitter turns its TV partners into competitors

With a much smaller audience base than a television channel (21 million viewers on M6 for the Euro final, i.e. 44% of French internet users, and almost twice the number of users Twitter in France), what can they expect? Attract advertisers who cannot afford to be displayed on TV during the between-round debate? This is also what broadcasters are trying to do by broadcasting Euro matches or even Roland Garros matches on their website …

Regarding the Democratic and Republican American conventions, Twitter will co-stream what CBSN (CBS News, CBS network news website) itself will stream.

In doing so, Twitter will promote CBSN more than demonstrate its ability to offer live streaming itself.

5- An unprofitable strategy, except in terms of image: we dress the bride?

M6 and TF1 – the “free” broadcasters of Euro football in France – admit having lost money, despite exceptional audiences and record advertising revenue. And we are talking about players much more seasoned in the sale of advertising space than Twitter, and a medium (TV) much more profitable than digital.

Buying broadcast rights is a particularly risky option for Twitter, given their high price, even without exclusivity. Besides, buying the rights to non-exclusive events – which can be found on other media – even cheaper, seems the worst option: once again, why would the user watch on a small screen what he can see on big?

Making distribution partnerships, with revenue sharing, seems more reasonable from this point of view. This is also the strategy led by YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn. But with a big difference in method: the latter encourage publishers to publish themselves, by making them dangle a better reach for their content. No need for partnership or negotiation. They just offer the publishing tools to everyone, to give readers a better experience through faster loading.

Hence the reflection of the leaders of Twitter on the need to end the 140 character limit, intrinsic limit of the network to this evolution that all the others propose and which succeeds them well.

One thing’s for sure though, these TV tie-ins are serving up Twitter’s image and increase the price of its share. A strategy that makes sense, if the objective of the leaders of Twitter is above all to dress the bride, to better sell it.

Article originally published on Mediaculture.

Sarah BerthaultSarah Berthault is a senior consultant in cross-media TV strategy. With more than 10 years of experience in the digital world, she supports companies in their digital transformation, both internally (training, seminars), and externally (social media strategy in particular).