I saw the Future of Television and it wasn’t where you’d expect it.
I love Twitter. I want it to succeed. Despite (or perhaps, as a result of) it’s inherent character limitations, the platform has become one of the most interesting ways we engage with each other online. But I’m certainly not suggesting that the platform is without faults, it has many. That’s why in July this year, I was excited to see that Twitter had locked up the streaming video rights for the US’s four biggest pro-sports leagues; the NHL, MLB, NBA and NFL. It’s a big bet for a social platform struggling to find a sustainable way to become profitable. And I think it will.
We all know that the magic of Twitter is fueled by real-time live events, which is why investing in sports to test the market was a stroke of genius. As a loyal DC sports fan, I can’t imagine watching my teams play without my phone — the second screen adds another dimension to sports that makes me feel part of the experience.
Thursday Night football is a smart way to gauge user interest and understand consumer behavior; it’s Football, so of course it comes with it’s own built-in loyal fan base, but it’s on a Thursday night which likely makes it a smaller audience than Sunday Football. TNF has historically been on premium cable channels unavailable to many (including yours truly who is a proud Cable Cutter) so watching it for free from my mobile device was a welcome update.
Brands, marketers, advertisers and influencers should all be crossing their fingers hoping Twitter is successful. There are huge implications for everyone at the table across paid, owned and earned media. If Twitter plays this right, we could see a dramatic shift on how brands advertise, how influencers share content and what promoted digital content could look like.
While still in it’s infancy, here are a few ways I think the platform and the way we use it will evolve:
Advertising you can Tolerate: The ability to leverage Twitter’s inherent targeting capabilities allow brands to fine-tune messaging, target narrow audiences and track engagements or actions. This means consumers are exposed to more compelling content that is relevant to their interests rather than seeing that same car commercial for the hundredth time.
Promoted Tweets go Next Level: For certain live events that have fairly standardized cadences or even a defined run-of-show, brands could be able to target ads for specific moments in time (warm-ups, the coin toss, touchdowns, halftime, overtime). Imagine a geo-targeted promoted tweet for Papa Johns after a Denver Broncos touchdown where Peyton Manning tweets a location-based coupon code for Denver-based Twitter users.
We might also expect promoted tweets to reinforce video ads during live coverage. Twitter has already developed a TV targeting ad unit that brands to promote content during specific TV shows so it’s safe to assume this feature is dramatically improved when the TV show you’re watching is on the Twitter platform. Promoted companion tweets that correlate with video ads running a live event would significantly improve ad recall and it’s overall effectiveness.
Increased Visibility for Influencers: Currently, Twitter is only pulling in the main hashtag for Thursday Night Football (#TNF) but I suspect that as the feature evolves, the platform will include additional functionality to allow users to filter what Tweets they see when watching live TV. Imagine being able to see how every verified beat reporter is covering that questionable touchdown call or a list of all official Tweets from the NFL and the players.
Measure Everything Better: Although TV commercials generate far greater reach than digital campaigns, it’s difficult to measure them to the same degree. Brands have already figured this out and the proof is in the ad spend amounts. Emarketer is anticipating that total digital ad spends will surpasses TV for the first time. Brands continue to invest more money in digital advertisement than broadcast TV for two reasons; consumer behaviors are shifting to mobile devices and digital ads have much better tracking capabilities.
Brands that invest in video ads during live events through Twitter will have a much stronger understanding about how long users viewed their ads and can continue to track engagement through promoted Tweets long after branded content is seen.
Make no mistake, sports are just the tip of the iceberg; we already use Twitter for major live events like the Oscars, the Emmy Awards, the Olympics and other breaking news events. Twitter recognizes this and is investing heavily against it. This Monday, one of the most anticipated television events in years will occur during the first 2016 Presidential debate and now, you’ll be able to stream that directly through Twitter.
Did we ever imagine that an old dinosaur like broadcast TV would be the unlikely hero to save a digital media darling like Twitter? I think it’s possible and the next few football games might prove that.