The news on Twitter seems unrelentingly bad lately, with its stock down on yesterday’s earnings report showing that Twitter only added 2 million users last quarter with quarterly revenues dropping slightly from the previous year. Here’s one bright spots: News publishers say Twitter is growing as a source for video distribution and revenue.
Across three Twitter accounts for Business Insider and two sister publications, Business Insider attracted more than 6 million video views on Twitter in January, up from 1 million views six months ago, according to BI. Similarly, NowThis Media said it’s getting a “meaningful” amount of views on its Twitter videos, with the number growing “gradually and consistently month over month.” Mashable said its Twitter video views quadrupled in the past four months. A fourth publisher saw Twitter video views take off in January, receiving 13 times as many views last month as it did seven months ago.
“January was the moment where we all looked at each other and said Twitter is not an experiment anymore,” said Justin Maiman, executive editor of video for Business Insider. “It’s bringing enough views in that it can’t be ignored.”
While that may be true, the audience is still nowhere near the levels those companies are seeing on Facebook. Business Insider, for instance, said it now gets 3 billion views per month across all of its media brands and distribution channels. Facebook accounts for a significant majority of those views. Meanwhile, NowThis received 884 million video views on its main Facebook page in December, according to Tubular Labs.
Money’s coming in, but it’s a small amount
One of the benefits of uploading video directly to Twitter is that publishers have the ability to make money from the first day — as long as they’re part of Twitter’s Amplify program, which allows media companies to sell and run pre-roll ads on their videos. This is different from Facebook, which just began testing a mid-roll ad product with select media partners.
Last year, Digiday reported that this helped some media companies generate more revenue from Twitter than Facebook, which at the time was only offering a “suggested videos” product that was driving negligible revenue for media partners.
Since then, Facebook loosened its rules on media companies posting sponsored videos — and it’s driving results. An executive at a media company that’s selling ads and sponsorships on both Twitter and Facebook said the difference in revenue coming from the two platforms is “pennies to dollars.” He said: “If you look at the overall scale of video viewership we get on Facebook versus Twitter, the same correlation exists from a revenue standpoint.”
Twitter’s lack of scale and revenue has kept some news publishers from joining its Amplify program. “It’s not that Twitter won’t be a good opportunity in the future, but right now there are bigger fish out there,” said an executive at a news media company.
Still, most news publishers see value in the increments
None of this is preventing most news publishers from distributing videos on Twitter. Even if the reach and revenue is incremental, it requires little to no additional investment in distributing videos on Twitter, sources said. Business Insider and NowThis, for instance, create plenty of short-form breaking news videos, ideal for a platform like Twitter. Business Insider publishes roughly 30 videos per day across its Business Insider, Tech Insider and Insider Twitter accounts; NowThis publishes 30 to 40 videos per day. Both companies often post one video multiple times per day due to Twitter’s constantly updating news feed.
“Just because it might be perceived that it has incremental audience and revenue doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be there,” said Athan Stephanopoulos, president of NowThis Media. “At the end of the day, as a news organization, it’s important to be on Twitter.”
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Twitter wants to do more live and original programs
Unlike most news publishers, Bloomberg Media has a distinct advantage on Twitter: the company is streaming two of its weekly live TV shows, “What’d You Miss?” and “Bloomberg Technology,” on the platform. These shows are available on a dedicated area to the right of the feed on Twitter’s main page.
Bloomberg’s global head of digital, Scott Havens, wouldn’t comment on what kind of viewership and revenue the shows are getting except to say that it’s “healthy and consistent.”
“It’s not scraps falling from the table,” he said. “It’s significant, incremental revenue.”
Bloomberg is in conversations with Twitter on bringing more shows to the platform. It’s also looking to partner with Twitter to do more live programming around major events — an area Twitter is investing in.
Last quarter, Twitter streamed more than 600 hours of live video from roughly 400 events. The company’s content partners included major sports leagues like the NFL, NHL and MLB and news publishers including Bloomberg, BuzzFeed and PBS. These live streams attracted 31 million unique viewers, Twitter said in its fourth quarter earnings report. Twitter’s coverage of the final presidential debate (Bloomberg), election night (with BuzzFeed) and Trump’s inauguration (PBS) attracted 4.2 million, 7.5 million and 8.6 million unique viewers, the company said.
With 38 percent of Twitter’s live video streams focusing on news and politics, there will be plenty of opportunities for news companies to work with Twitter on live video. Multiple sources said their companies are in constant conversations to program live content around major events.
Trouble is, Twitter might not be able gin up enough advertising support to fund some of the content. One publisher said it walked away from a potential live streaming partnership because Twitter couldn’t meet its price, citing lack of interest from advertisers.
“We’re not going to set this up as a new sales channel because there’s nothing making me confident enough to justify it just yet,” said an exec at this publisher. “We’ll have conversations with them, but the business terms have to make sense.”
In contrast, Twitter’s live simulcast of Bloomberg’s coverage of the final presidential debate as well as the original election night show it produced with BuzzFeed did well with advertisers, according to reports. Twitter said both live streams delivered between two and three times more impressions than it originally promised advertisers.
“The video elements of our advertising business are doing very well, specifically the Amplify products as well as the live products,” said Twitter COO Anthony Noto during the company’s earnings call, per Seeking Alpha. “We’ll continue to invest in those products.”