Commentary

Twitter Makes Its Second-Screen Moves With BBC America Partnership

Doctor-Who-BHow do you cut a deal in 140 characters or less? BBC America did exactly that late last week by announcing its partnership with Twitter via a tweet:

“@Twitter and @BBCAmerica, home of #DoctorWho & #TopGear, ink deal to offer 1st in-Tweet branded video synced to entertainment TV series.”

No further details from BBC America or Twitter were available. But we think we get the idea. The cable network will be using its Twitter feed as a way of distributing video clips synchronized to the on-air experience. We are guessing that this could become a cool channel for passing along behind-the-scenes clips, video recaps, and well-timed promotions. Of course, if this helps the smartphone or tablet user to tune in to the @BBCAmerica feed, then there’s no reason why this couldn’t be a channel for marketing partners as well.

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Twitter did something similar with Turner Broadcasting earlier this year when it tweeted instant replay clips from March Madness games, sponsored by AT&T and Coke Zero. As Mashable points out, ESPN and Ford had a similar arrangement with Twitter for college football games.

This deal, however, seems to establish two important new dynamics: an ongoing relationship across shows with a single network for Twitter, and the expansion of synchronized tweeted videos beyond live sporting events and into serial drama and other programming.

The possibilities here are tremendous. If TV programmers start regarding their Twitter feeds as real-time sidecars to their on-air programming, then you finally have a broad-based platform for some great new creative concepts.

Some of this was going on years ago in early TV experiments with SMS messaging. I distinctly recall when Bravo experimented with having characters from its "Top Chef" reality show send messages to subscribe to recipients during the live broadcast. The viewer could subscribe to a particular character’s point of view as an enhancement to the show.

In many ways this minimalist approach to enhance TV was quite compelling because it added a real dimension to the experience without distracting from the main screen. I also love the fact that it allowed the viewer to choose a sort of narrowcasting subchannel to the more general broadcast experience. One can imagine something similar happening with viewers being prompted to subscribe to branches off of the network's main Twitter feed.

The BBC America announcement comes as there are other reports of Twitter talking with Viacom and NBC about tweeting video clips. And it all occurs the same week that Twitter released its very impressive entry into the music ecosystem with its iOS app. Was it really only two days ago that we yelled to the TV industry to watch what Twitter was already doing and music because “they are next?”

Twitter is in a tremendous position when it comes to the second-screen experience, mainly because users have already made it the default service for chatting about TV shows in real-time. Even the second-screen apps that purport to add more content around the TV viewing experience generally use Twitter as their anchor. More to the point, Twitter may be all users really need or want from a second screen. The missing ingredient for Twitter, however, is its ability to serve time-shifted experiences. The audio fingerprinting common among third-party second-screen apps allow users to collect content and previously posted material even around shows that they have downloaded or recorded to DVRs.

Which kind of makes you wonder… If the Twitter and Shazam partnership makes sense at some point.

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