Television may be headed for extinction, but video will live on through innovative new strategies.
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Will Twitter’s Live Video Content Become the New TV?

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You turn to social media to connect with friends, network with professionals, share photos and updates, and even to get your news. But would you consider logging into your social account each time you sit down to watch TV?

It may sound strange, even unnatural—but Twitter is betting hard that you will.

The company has recently struck a number of live-streaming media deals that will turn it into a destination for live video of various events, with a particular emphasis on the sports world.

Video content continues to grow in popularity online, but Twitter is banking on a much larger, more fundamental shift in the way we consume visual media. As mobile devices continue to occupy more of our time each day, and video consumption increases accordingly, traditional television is having a harder time attracting viewers. Cable subscriptions are in decline, and media publishers are seeking new ways to reach their target audiences.

Twitter hopes to be the video marketing platform, picking up the viewership TV is losing. But there are questions still to answer: Is Twitter’s video play a vital threat to TV, and what does that mean for marketers?

Building a Brand Around Live Events

If you’re judging Twitter strictly by its recent media deals, live events appear to be the cornerstone of its video strategy. As Ad Age pointed out, the company recently struck a landmark deal with the National Football League to livestream some Thursday Night Football games as they are being broadcast on cable television.

Earlier this year, Twitter tested live video streaming from Wimbledon. And similar livestreaming deals have been reached with Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, signaling widespread appeal for the video content options it is presenting to those leagues.

The goal for Twitter, of course, is to attract advertisers—especially the ad-space buyers who might otherwise opt for television commercial spots. And the company has allegedly received strong interest, claiming that some ad packages for the NFL games are selling for up to $8 million.

There is a clear limitation to this video strategy, at least as it compares with TV’s offerings. Twitter isn’t trying to position itself as a replacement to TV—not yet, anyway—and it would be foolish to try. After all, the company doesn’t have the original content or the show syndication options that TV alternatives such as Netflix and Hulu have to offer.

That said, Twitter is setting up to occupy a unique niche in video consumption: live video, in the purest sense. Live events comprise one area where TV does continue to dominate—but by building itself as a direct competitor, Twitter is threatening to cut the best leg TV has left to stand on.

Twitter HQ

Courting the Cord Cutters

Twitter may have its doubters when it comes to becoming a replacement for TV, but one thing is indisputable: TV’s domain is ripe for the taking. According to The Economist, cable providers are hemorrhaging subscribers as a result of cord cutting. While the decline in annual cable subscribers only occurs at a rate of around one percent every year, that rate is increasing.

Meanwhile, roughly one-quarter of all US homes do not currently subscribe to cable. Compound that figure with the declining numbers—after years of gradual growth—and it’s easy to see why TV’s grip on the American public is shrinking. Twitter is far from the first company to realize this, but it’s the first social network to try and leverage its unique features to compete with TV in a new, innovative way.

Challenges persist, and for a company like Twitter, there are bound to be unexpected struggles and obstacles when trying to undertake such a fundamental transition. The platform will continue to function as it always has, but its investment in live events and video, if successful, could spark the beginning of a new era for Twitter. That would be welcome news for the company, since its current social platform is struggling to win over marketers, and it’s losing ground to newcomers such as Snapchat in terms of growing its user base.

For marketers, it’s an interesting trend to follow. Twitter could become a more affordable channel for targeting a traditional TV audience, which could create new, exciting campaign possibilities. Still, any plunge into Twitter’s live-video ad packages is somewhat of a gamble, since there’s little history for what it’s currently selling. And at the same time, there’s no assurance that Twitter’s experimentation won’t benefit a competitor more than itself.

The Challenge: Maintaining Platform Relevance

Twitter may be blazing a trail for the transition of television to social channels, but there’s no guarantee the company will become the de facto destination for live video events. Even as Twitter announces innovative livestreaming deals with multiple sports leagues, its competitors are embracing similar strategies.

Facebook, for example, is also working hard to expand its role as a live video destination, and Snapchat has its own Live Stories deal with the NFL, as Fortune reported. Live video is far from Twitter’s exclusive territory, and competition will be steep.

What’s more, Facebook and Snapchat both have much more positive momentum at the moment than Twitter. This could be a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating future deals, and bidding for the rights to future livestreaming opportunities.

So what’s a content marketer to do with this knowledge? The developments are exciting, and very promising for marketers, since it likely means the future of live video will offer much more cost-effective, scalable advertising solutions. If you can bet on anything as a certainty, it’s that TV ad spots currently reserved for large national brands will soon become more accessible to smaller competitors, albeit on a different platform.

But will Twitter be the one to deliver TV’s knockout punch? It’s impossible to tell right now. And it’s not important, really, for anyone outside of Twitter headquarters. What matters is that TV’s restrictive mode of delivering video—even live video—is quickly headed toward extinction. And both video creators and advertisers will be better off for it.

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Jonathan has worked as a journalist for the past 8 years. His journalism credits include employment at the Omaha World-Herald, Willamette Week, and NFL.com, with projects appearing in New York Newsday, WRITERS' Journal, and others. Other writing has regularly appeared on LiveSTRONG.com, Reputation.com and FindLaw.com, among others. He is the recipient of a First Place award in Sports Feature from the Society of Professional Journalists Northwest Region. He lives in Portland, Oregon and works as a marketing writer and a freelance editor.

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