‘We are a must-buy’: Twitter says ad payments to publishers are up 60%

Driven by a growing number of content deals, Twitter says it paid 60% more revenue back to publishers in 2018 than the year prior — the second consecutive year of 60% growth in payouts.

The payouts span Twitter’s suite of monetization products, which include exclusive and original content deals with media companies ranging from the NBA to BuzzFeed and CNN, as well as publishers organically uploading videos to Twitter and making money from Twitter’s ad products. Those content deals, which comprise both live and on-demand video, drive a majority of the revenue that Twitter’s sending back to publishers — and Twitter now has 950 media partners in place. (Twitter now has 134 million “monetizable” daily active users, which helped the company grow quarterly revenues 18% year over year to $787 million.)

Ahead of Twitter’s third NewFronts presentation next week, Kay Madati, Twitter’s head of content partnerships, spoke with Digiday about revenue growth for media companies on the platform, why this year’s NewFronts will focus on fewer deals, Twitter’s efforts to shore up brand safety on its platform and more. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Twitter’s payouts to publishers increased by 60% in 2018. What’s behind that growth? More publishers? More content?
All of the above. Since the business has hit its stride over the past two, three years, we have grown to more than 950 global content publishers. We’re doing more content through more partnerships and deals than ever before. Even with the people we were already working with, we have gone back to the drawing board to make those relationships bigger.

Give me an example of a deal that’s gotten bigger.
When you look at our execution around the NBA, for the first time ever, we’re having live game content outside of TV on Twitter. We are going to leverage content tools such as Q&As, unique camera angles, fan voting — going beyond what we have ever done with the NBA before. That can be said about our PGA Tour deal and our renewal of “AM2DM” with BuzzFeed.

Twitter announced 30 new deals and renewals at last year’s NewFronts. The goal this year is to talk about fewer deals? Why?
Pretty much everything we announced on stage [last year], we launched. And pretty much everything we announced that received an advertiser sponsorship — which shows the strength of the business. But volume is one measure of success, and we’re still doing a lot of partnerships. When we looked at 2019, we wanted to focus on how deep we are going with those partnerships, and how these partnerships are engaging communities and creating conversations that keep people more engaged on Twitter. That will be the theme.

But are there past deals that did not work? Is this an acknowledgment that you’re doing fewer deals?
No. On stage, we are going to be talking about fewer deals, but that does not mean we don’t have other deals. We do not have to talk about everything during a one-hour presentation. Partnerships continue to grow and we fully expect to have more than 950 by the end of the year. I didn’t want the message to be that we have a lot of partners. What’s more interesting is what we are actually doing with partnerships.

Has your pitch to advertisers changed?
Our core value proposition is our audience and the communities that exist around the content on our platform. Our audiences are engaged and participating in the dialogue; this is not a place where you watch a half-hour Netflix show; this is a place where you participate and share.

That’s risky, though. You can’t control what people are saying around this content. Has that been an issue with advertisers?
You’re hinting at the larger issues of platform health. I’m not suggesting that isn’t a problem, but Jack [Dorsey] has been clear that the No. 1  priority is allowing people to have healthy conversations. Most of the content we are bringing to the platform inspires people to share, whether it’s the World Cup or working with the PGA Tour or with CNN around a debate. How we leverage some of our machine learning and human reviewers in and around these content executions are still questions that advertisers have. But for the most part, they have come along for the ride.

Are you looking to compete with TV?
Most of our content executions are complementary, not competitive — they have to be. We are not replicating what’s happening on TV. When something happens in the world, it also happens on Twitter. People want to travel [across screens] and be a part of this conversation. It’s not that hard of a pitch. Also, fundamentally, a lot of our advertisers and publishers are wrapped up in the offline iterations of the content we’re bringing to the world. Advertisers that are excited about our executions with the NBA are also buying linear TV ads [on] NBA games and are on the ground at the NBA All-Star Game.

But are you looking to take a greater share of TV ad budgets?
Where the money comes from is less important to me. I don’t go into these relationships with the mindset that need to chase TV budgets, versus digital budgets, versus social budgets. More importantly, we think we are a must-buy. I’m not greedy, I’ll take the money from wherever it comes.


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