May 2nd 2017

We need to talk about Twitter

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 11 years, you might be aware of this social media platform called Twitter. It’s only got about 319 million active users (as of 2016) and is estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

Of course you’ve heard of it, who hasn’t? And if, like me, you’re glued to your smartphone screen day and night, constantly refreshing social media pages and frantically searching for the latest news, you’ll know that as of last night, Twitter’s making a few more changes to its platform.

Its latest move seems to be a serious foray into live streaming. As part of its push into the sector, the social media giant has teamed up with Bloomberg to offer round-the-clock reportage. That’s right; 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the global financial outlet will create a news service solely for Twitter that live streams “important news for an intelligence audience,” according to Bloomberg Media’s chief executive officer, Justin Smith. The channel is expected to kick off later in the year and will be dedicated to providing breaking stories from the news outlet’s many bureaus globally.

Twitter’s been undergoing a period of change recently. Last week, it reported a decline in revenue; the first time it has done so since its IPO. However, video has comprised a significant portion of its growing ad revenue in Q1 2017, so it makes sense that Twitter’s charismatic leader Jack Dorsey wants to pursue a bigger portion of the video streaming pie. In fact, it hasn’t stopped at Bloomberg. Twitter has signed on an additional 16 live streaming partners to offer a mix of sporting, news and entertainment-related content to users. This includes, but is not limited to content from the NFL, WNBA, the PGA Tour, BuzzFeed, Cheddar and IMG.

Going after such a lucrative sector, however, is no mean feat. Twitter will need to outmanoeuvre the likes of Facebook, YouTube and even Snapchat if it wants to stake a real claim in the video advertising world. It’s no secret that fewer individuals these days are watching TV, moving instead to online streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Now TV to get their fix of movies and shows. Perhaps social media plus online video could spell great success; the next stage of content consumption. However, I for one don’t care about the NFL, the PGA, or the WNBA and although these sports do attract a global following, I’m not sure how many people outside of the US will either. While Twitter is a US company, it has a global reach. While it’s fine for Twitter to experiment with partners closer to home, if it truly wants to elbow out the market leaders in the video advertising sector, it needs expand its remit to ensure relevancy for a local and global audience. This means bringing local content to users, wherever they may be in the world. While it aims to do this with its dedicated Bloomberg channel, it would be nice to see some local market considerations for its sporting, entertainment and news feeds.

To that end, if Twitter wants to take the lead in curated content, it also needs to take responsibility for the information it is sharing. For a social platform that has received a lot of criticism for allowing extremist content and opinions to be shared on its platform, it will need to apply stringent guidelines to the content being broadcast via its partners. While 24/7, on the go reportage is a great concept, sometimes people do need to just switch off. When the 21st century has already borne witness to some pretty atrocious acts, we need to think about how we’re reporting these stories, bearing in mind the age and sensibility of the average Twitter user and the way different countries report events. It will be interesting to see how Twitter’s video ad strategy plays out, but it will need to seriously think about how this will impact the end user, rather than just its already-lined pockets.