Twitter Pitches Itself To TV Networks
On: September 24, 2013

Ahead of its stock market debut, Twitter Inc. is hoping for a breakout role on TV this fall: moneymaker.

As television networks crank up their marketing machines to promote new fall shows, Twitter wants to squeeze more dollars out of its ability to generate real-time online buzz.

Ahead of its stock-market debut, Twitter is hoping for a breakout role on TV this fall: moneymaker. Keach Hagey joins digits. Photo: AP.

Twitter’s trend-tracking hashtags have already become common marketing tools on TV, but networks haven’t always paid for their benefits, often capitalizing on Twitter’s power as a free marketing tool.

Getting companies to pay for Twitter publicity is a crucial distinction for the seven-year-old company as it tries to convert its online influence into a business model—especially when rival Facebook Inc. FB +3.77% also wants to become a hub for real-time conversations.

In recent months, Twitter has been courting television networks and advertisers as it rolls out more-sophisticated marketing products. New partnerships are likely this week, as Twitter executives gather with the media industry for the Advertising Week conference in New York.

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Syfy’s show ‘Sharknado’ generated a lot of tweets, but not a big bump in audience.

One of Twitter’s key ad products is called Amplify, which allows Twitter to sell ads together with television and other media companies.

With Amplify, networks post short video replays on Twitter in near-real time. The video is sponsored by a brand. The network and Twitter each get a cut of the ad proceeds. (Twitter declined to detail the split.)

“Now we are able to talk about how to make money together and how to give sponsors an interesting two-screen approach to things,” said Glenn Brown, the Twitter executive who has been pitching Amplify to networks.

Until recently, Twitter had developed only a few, simple ad products, which serve as its main source of revenue. A “promoted tweet,” for example, sits atop users’ main feed of rolling tweets, while a “promoted trend” slots at the top of the trends list that run on one side of the screen.

The San Francisco-based company earlier this month filed confidential papers with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to begin the process for an initial public offering, but it doesn’t disclose ad sales. Research firm eMarketer Inc. estimates Twitter will generate just under $1 billion in world-wide ad revenue in 2014, up from $583 million this year.

Twitter unveiled its split-revenue Amplify product in the spring, with initial network partners including A&E Networks, BBC America and ESPN, which is majority owned by Walt Disney Co. DIS 0.00%

21st Century Fox’s Fox Sports also signed on early, but hasn’t yet run any significant initiatives with it. (21st Century Fox and Wall Street Journal owner News Corp NWSA +3.09% were part of the same media company until June.)

At this point, CBS Corp. CBS +1.27% hasn’t signed on to Amplify, but Twitter plays a starring role in CBS’s fall marketing efforts. The network is in the midst of a weeklong tweeting extravaganza to promote its lineup, dubbed #CBSTweetWeek, featuring stars from “Hostages,” “NCIS” and other shows interacting with fans on the social-media service.

CBS is hoping that the tweeting will create buzz for its shows and drive more viewers to tune in, said Marc DeBevoise, the executive vice president and general manager of entertainment, news and sports at CBS Interactive.

As for Amplify, he said, “We are looking at a number of sponsorship and revenue models around the Twitter ecosystem.”

Part of the ambivalence stems from the uncertainty about what, exactly, the payoff is for television networks. “We see a connection between increased Twitter activity and increased ratings,” Mr. DeBevoise said. “The problem is, we can’t tell which is doing which.”

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