Twitter: looking for its place in the world

Twitter continues to look for a place in the world, and above all to find ways to boost its anemic growth. For most Twitter users, it’s the place they go to for news stories and stuff they’re interested in before they make it on to the mainstream media, a specialist channel for people who know what they want and that works so well you wonder how you managed before. But the sad truth is that compared to other social media, Twitter users are just a handful around the world, some 313 million; too few to sustain it under its current business model.

In April, Twitter became the exclusive partner of the US National Football League, getting to provide worldwide streaming of 10 of the games played each Thursday night (NFL games are normally played on Sundays and Thursdays, with one on Monday) in return for some $15 million.

The signs are that it proved hard to secure the contract. Twitter’s main rival, Facebook, wanted control over all advertising, which worried the NFL, because it would lose direct contact with its advertisers. Twitter, under pressure to win the broadcast rights, offered to manage just part of the advertising exclusively, that directed at a younger audience share. Each NFL game tends to have an audience of around 13 million television viewers, and Twitter is hoping that a percentage of these will decide to use the network for other uses than just commenting on the game.

Twitter has also signed exclusive distribution deals with Wimbledon Tennis Championship, CBS News, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and Pac-12, and is also in talks with Major League Soccer and the Professional Golfers’ Association, all in the hope of turning Twitter into the place to go to watch live sports, not only in smartphones, computers or tablets, but also on some conventional TVs via an agreement with Apple to provide access to the Twitter application in its Apple TV.

Given the restrictions imposed by the International Olympic Committee on the use of images, videos, animated GIFs and even certain words or photographs of their medals by athletes, we are clearly headed toward an environment where content on the internet will be increasingly tightly controlled: if you share stuff on the internet you don’t have the rights to then they could be removed or your account closed.

Twitter is also experimenting with other advertising formats such as sponsored brand stickers that users can stick on their photographs. Pepsi is the first brand to show an interest, which makes sense, bearing in mind that its CFO, Hugh Johnston, has been a member of Twitter’s board since last April.

Twitter’s efforts to become a player in major sports events could be being rewarded by the markets: since its historic low of $14 in June, its shares are now worth around $20, but still a long way from the $41 when it went public in 2013, or its absolute maximum of $69 soon after, in January 2014. But it remains to see whether it can really establish itself as the place to watch major sporting events, sucking in advertising spending from television.

(En español, aquí)