Why I continue to be bullish on Twitter video

Back in 2015, angel investor Jason Calacanis made a rather bullish prediction about Twitter. The social platform was in the process of rolling out new native video offerings, and Calacanis was convinced video would be a gamechanger for the then-struggling company. “Prediction,” he wrote. “Within 18 months of releasing their YouTube competitor (coexister?), Twitter will at least double their monthly users, double their time per user, and triple their revenue.”

His argument? That celebrities and influencers, many of whom are constant Twitter users, would see strong engagement on their videos and, encouraged by that engagement, begin regularly uploading their original videos there. “Most celebrities, influencers, journalists, business leaders, and world leaders do not have YouTube channels,” he argued. “If they happen to have a YouTube channel they probably never log into it personally, and they probably update infrequently. In other words, the most powerful folks in the world are not active on YouTube.” Those same celebrities are already familiar with the Twitter app, meaning there would be less friction for those who might not otherwise bother with YouTube’s more formal process of uploading and optimizing video.

Calacanis also pointed out that brands, because they conduct most of their customer service on Twitter, are more invested in the platform and would therefore see more incentive in publishing video there. “When brands can start hosting native videos they will go absolutely NUCLEAR on Twitter,” he wrote.

Flash forward to 2018 and it’s clear that Calacanis’s predictions were absurdly optimistic. Twitter certainly hasn’t doubled its monthly active users (they’ve grown by about 30 million, or 10 percent), and revenue hasn’t even doubled, much less tripled. But there are signs that Twitter is turning its ship around. It just posted its first quarterly profit in the history of its existence and it claimed that it saw five straight quarters of double-digit daily active user growth. Publishers are also seeing more engagement on the platform; as BuzzFeed reported in January:

In October 2017, Facebook sent 4.7 visitors to publishers per post for every one visitor Twitter sent, according to data from SocialFlow, a publishing tool used by approximately 300 major publishers, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Since then, referrals from Facebook declined and those from Twitter rose. This month, Facebook is sending just 2.5 visitors to publisher sites per post for every one sent by Twitter, essentially cutting the lead in half.

It’s impossible to attribute all this positive growth to video (Twitter has launched several other product changes, including threaded tweets and an expansion of the character limit), but there’s evidence that Twitter users find video on the platform to be highly engaging. Ever since Twitter started making video view counts public, I’ve noticed, anecdotally, that it’s fairly common for videos to rack up views counts in the millions, a sign that a video on Twitter has the same viewability potential that it might have on other major platforms like Facebook or YouTube.

According to a recent Digiday article, publishers across the board have a seen a sharp increase in Twitter video views in recent months, in some cases enough to make up for the loss of Facebook organic views following its Newsfeed changes:

Across its top brands, magazine publisher Bauer found that Twitter video views increased fivefold from October to December 2017. CNBC International said it has had “notable growth” in its video views in February, but the company couldn’t share specific numbers at time of writing. During the same month, lifestyle publisher Stylist saw a 500 percent increase in its Twitter video views as a result of dedicating more resources to Twitter. Men’s interest site Joe Media saw a 20 percent increase in video views over the last four months to 6.2 million. A source familiar with the matter said that over the last year, Twitter has had a “significant” increase in the number of video views on the platform compared to the previous year.

TV broadcasters have noticed these trends, and they’re increasingly repurposing their broadcast clips to Twitter. Data compiled by NewsWhip showed that six broadcast news networks (NBC, CNN, CNBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox News) post more than 100 video clips to Twitter per week (Fox News, alone, posted 701 clips).

Source: NewsWhip

But Twitter isn’t just a home for repurposed broadcast clips; its partnerships team, led by former BET executive Kay Madati, has been aggressively pursuing deals that result in publishers producing live video content for the platform. AM2DM, a BuzzFeed morning show, reportedly gets 1 million viewers per day. TicToc, a 24-hour video network Bloomberg produces for Twitter, averages 750 million unique viewers a day. Cheddar, a financial news startup, produces exclusive live content for Twitter, and though I wasn’t able to find Twitter-specific metrics for the company, Digiday reported that it “claims 200 million to 250 million monthly views across all platforms and counts Twitter as its most important social network live partner.” Though it’s difficult to make an apples to apples comparison to traditional TV ratings, these numbers aren’t that far off from the viewership for many CNN and MSNBC shows.

Of course, Twitter’s partnerships extend well beyond news. It’s signing deals for both streaming rights and original video analysis from several major sports leagues from the WNBA to the NFL. It’s even diving into scripted programming, signing deals with Fox to broadcast both new and hit shows before they even premiere on TV. It apparently hasn’t escaped broadcasters that their most engaged viewers are often the ones who live tweet episodes as they’re broadcast in real time (as I write this, #TheXFiles is trending on Twitter). Now that there are hundreds of scripted shows on the air, TV networks are more than willing to forge these kinds of partnerships with Twitter if it’ll help them break through the noise.

So yes, while Calacanis’s predictions were much too ambitious, his guess that Twitter video would be welcomed by its users was largely right. Whether it’s a 60 Minutes clip of Betsy DeVos struggling to answer basic questions about education (6.9 million views) or dashboard cam footage of Uber’s devastating self-driving fatality, Twitter video often has a relevance that you don’t find on other social media apps, and given the role breaking news and live events play on the platform, I think its native video is a truly differentiated product. Move over Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch, because Twitter’s earned its place at the online video table.


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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.

Tech and media journalist. Email me: simonowens@gmail.com