A Twitter Turnaround? Live Video Efforts Raise Hope For Social Giant

Twitter is in the midst of a massive strategic pivot. While the site still encourages stream-of-consciousness tweets (just look at President Trump’s feed), the company has bet its business on live video.

Those efforts have focused on live sporting events and news --  both live, immediate and not easily replayable. 

Last season, Twitter streamed “Thursday Night Football” games, while this year it will have exclusive World Cup programming from Fox Sports.

Last year, it launched content from Cheddar, and this year it launched a slew of new news brands, including the Buzzfeed News morning show “AM to DM,” and a 24-hour news channel called “TicToc” from Bloomberg.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Kay Madati, Twitter’s head of content partnerships with only a few months on the job, held court.

According to Variety, Madeti met with potential programming partners, as well as advertisers, to pitch them on Twitter’s strategy.

According to the company, in the last quarter Twitter streamed more than 830 news and sporting events.

“We believe Twitter is in the early stages of a multi-year turnaround,” wrote BTIG media analyst Rich Greenfield in a research note. “Twitter management has refocused the company on its core product, pushed their product team to iterate far faster than ever before in the company’s history (including breaking long-held company beliefs such as 140 characters), embraced video creating a platform for premium content creators which is 'brand-safe' for advertisers -- and, most importantly. made the Twitter user experience more compelling by showing consumers the tweets they care most about through AI and machine learning (not to mention using that same tech to reduce the level of spam/trolling).” (Italics are Greenfield's.)

Of course, any strategic pivot, particularly one focused on expensive video content, carries risk.

Twitter’s COO Anthony Noto (who is also the company’s highest-ranking full-time employee, with CEO Jack Dorsey also serving as CEO of payments startup Square), is reported to be in the running for the CEO job at financial startup SoFi. Such a high-profile loss could be a setback for the company in the midst of a turnaround. Indeed, shares on Twitter fell after reports circulated about Noto's possible departure.

In addition, Twitter’s reliance on outside partners means that some of that premium content could depart for greener pastures after becoming a hit, just as “Thursday Night Football” left for Amazon this season.

Still, from a marketing perspective, Twitter’s content is unique. While Facebook and Google own much of the on-demand video Inventory, neither is a major player in live streaming. Twitter’s curated selection of live content does not have any clear competition from those two tech giants.

“As we have seen over an extremely volatile past 11 months since our upgrade to ‘buy,' Twitter’s recovery will not be a smooth straight line, with much work to be done on the product,” Greenfield wrote. “But, we are increasingly confident that management has the company on the correct path, with sentiment from ad buyers meaningfully improving over the past six months.”

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