Twitter has long been a powerful sidekick to TV. The conversations and trending topics on the platform are often dominated by whatever's on the box at that time. Shows can find new life and new audiences if they successfully attract good buzz on the platform, and advertisers have even developed ways to buy Twitter ads to match up with their on air sponsorships.
It's clear however, that the platform has ambitions to become centre stage, and over the next few months we're about to see how they pan out.
When the online streaming rights to the NFL were awarded to Twitter in April, it sounded to many like a rather unexpected move. Certainly Twitter had been a keen player in live video streaming through its Periscope acquisition, but for many it was still a place for sending short, 140-character messages, not sitting back and watching the game.
Now with the news that even the sacred character limit is being relaxed (so that media, usernames and quoted tweets don’t count), this should be a clear signal that the platform has evolved far from this being its only unique feature. As one of the complexities of the platform, this simplification should again make it easier for new users to participate and make it easier to share, whilst still preserving the broad intention of quick fire communications. That said, it’s questionable as to whether the difficulty of tweeting has ever been a real barrier, compared to the challenge of finding people worth following – something which the curated conversations around live streams will do more to fix.
Twitter is clearly deadly serious about its streaming proposition and has run live trials of the interface which will ultimately power it around events including Wimbledon and the US election season party conferences. The native experience offers incredibly high quality streaming (supported by a range of clever image technologies) and a seamless integration with the live conversation around the event which is of course still Twitter's USP.
When it won the rights to stream the NFL, for what rumour has it was far less than some competitors offered, there was a sense that Twitter was seen as a safe bet which would ultimately still push traffic back to the big screen by drawing people into the conversation. Whether that was the true intention or not, the end result doesn't show much sign of that; in fact with Smart TV integration, Twitter's offering looks to be a cord cutter's dream, not just a stop gap to keep watching the game whilst you pop to the fridge.
With this new development, it looks likely that Twitter will beat other platforms to the punch in delivering quality content that really makes people sit up and pay attention, as it upgrades dozens of 'Amplify' partnerships it's built up over the years into fully blown streaming video agreements. Expect to see a lot of different sports, music and entertainment properties streaming into your pocket very soon. This could be the ‘House of Cards’ moment which sees live social streaming become a mainstream consideration.
It remains to be seen how successful the approach will be, or even how Twitter will manage the user experience if live streaming does take off with dozens of partners, but it's going to be one of the most interesting developments in media to watch as the year plays out. It's also the biggest wake up call for marketers who still think of Twitter as a short text platform slowing down behind rivals.
The first NFL game drew a Twitter audience of over 2 million unique users, which is an impressive start for a new service, though of course remains a good way off the 48 million who watched it the ‘old fashioned’ way.
Jerry Daykin is global digital partner at Carat. He tweets @jdaykin