My $4.5 Billion Gift To Twitter

Darren Rovell
5 min readMar 21, 2016


It’s the 10th anniversary for Twitter tomorrow and, as someone who has loved what it has done for my career (the life part is debatable), I’m going to give Twitter the greatest gift I can: $4.5 Billion.

Over the last couple of months, it has been extremely frustrating to watch Wall Street destroy Twitter. Some of that is due to the fact that Twitter has done an awful job at telling its story, which has resulted in haters bashing its weaknesses and not many standing up for its strengths. Yes, Twitter isn’t the best for video or to keep up with your high school friends, but Facebook can’t hold a candle to Twitter’s real-time buzz and ability for something great, from a user with a small amount to followers, to go viral.

But what I can’t defend in my support of Twitter is its inability to generate cash flow. In dollars and cents, it’s just not producing what Facebook and, its partner in crime, Instagram, is doing at the cash register.

So tonight, I’m going to start it all off. Tonight, I am going to agree to pay Twitter $100 a year. If I can get a bank account to put it in, I will do it right now.

And while the majority of Twitter users will not be willing to do the same, there are people who are in my camp and there are greater numbers who are at least willing to pay SOMETHING.

Before you scream at me to tell me I’m a dope for suggesting this to Twitter, let me give you this tease: Like anything in this world, in the most efficient economies, you get what you pay for. There’s a bright side in paying and that’s a better user experience. It’s why there are so many apps in the Apple Store that have a regular version, which you get for free, and a Pro version, which you pay for. More on this later.

To start the general discussion of “Pay For Twitter,” let’s first take a look at the general opinion of Twitter users being willing to pay. Here are the results of a poll I took yesterday on Twitter that garnered more than 15,000 votes. I’m not completely sure, but it’s likely the largest poll taken on Twitter to date that seeks to survey users on the pay model. It’s also the largest response I’ve gotten to any Twitter poll that didn’t have the words “Johnny Manziel” in it.

While it’s far from perfect, I’m pretty shocked at the results. Here they are:

Yes, it’s shocking that only 64 percent said they would be willing to pay nothing. Why? Because I’ve found that people often vote more negatively to try to make a statement. I think the number of people who won’t pay might be closer to 55 percent.

What should have Twitter executives salivating is the fact that 36 percent of people, without any changes made to the platform or promises of any enhancement it seems, are willing to pay $12 to $60 a year for the product. My guess is that with an “up sell” of an enhanced product, 6–10 percent of the people who said they would pay nothing would be converted, which puts us at, say, 45 percent.

The “up sell” isn’t that hard by the way. I’ll use the Sleepy’s mattress example, where they now effectively sell expensive mattresses by explaining how cheap it is relative to the cost of a good night sleep.

When was the last time you had a $60 dinner? What was your relationship to that meal versus your relationship with Twitter. ‘Nuff said.

So let’s get right to the most essential point before we get into the new found revenue.

Anyone who doesn’t want to pay will not pay. They can continue to use Twitter as they always have. This is an important point that was missed by many after I tweeted out the question. The user experience that exists today cannot be compromised by a for-pay model. It should only be enhanced. Allowing those that don’t want to pay to keep it that way is important

Then, Twitter rolls out various products for those who are willing to pay.

For $1 a month & $12 a year, you get to prioritize your Twitter feed. You can have one timeline in chronological order and another one in order of your priorities, by topic and by follow. You also get a mobile version of Tweetdeck, which doesn’t currently exist, but is an essential for a power user.

For $5 a month & $60 a year, you get prioritization, mobile Tweetdeck and priority access to Twitter’s new features as they roll out, including immediate access to Twitter’s native video platform, which currently isn’t available to the masses. You also get a newly built Twitter Heat Map, which gives you access to a column that allows you to see the fastest RT’d and liked tweets on the platform in real time.

For $10 a month, or for a discounted rate of $100 a year, you get all of the above plus Identity Verification Services (blue check mark on day of signing up), ability to sell products and services with the Twitter “Buy Now” button. You also have access to a more professional version of the Heat Map that shows a list of the top tweets over the last 24 hours, sortable by topic. You’ll also get real time stats on your tweets, access to an algorithm that will include suggestions on what topics you have had success tweeting about and a fully sortable list of all your tweets, arranged by topic and popularity.

(I’m not getting into fees to charge companies because it’s a bit more complex and isn’t worth the effort at this point.)

I’ll leave it up to Twitter executives to tell you what else they could offer you for what, but it’s pretty clear that the revenue is there. How much revenue? $4.5 billion in the first year alone.

Time to show my math.

Let’s take the data from my poll and figure that by the time Twitter has these options, there would be 25 percent of users willing to pay $1 a month, 15 percent at $5 and let’s say a conservative 3 percent at $10 a month.

Using the active user base of 305 million people as my guide, 76 million people who paid $1 a month would be paying Twitter $900 million over a year. Forty five million people at $5 a month is $2.76 billion over the course of 12 months. And finally, nine million people paying $100 a year is another $900 million.

I know, easier said than done. But it’s worth trying.

In ten years, Twitter created something that so many of us truly love. We’re willing to grow with you and help you grow.

So here’s the first $100. Just tell me where to send it.



Darren Rovell

ESPN Sports Business Reporter & Business Correspondent, ABC News. Twitter & Instagram: @darrenrovell