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Why publishers should invest more resources in Twitter video

Earlier this week, CNN hosted a debate between Florida gubernatorial candidates Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum, and if you watched it on your television, it probably resembled every other political debate you’ve ever seen.

But as the debate was still ongoing, an enterprising social media producer at CNN was busy cutting small video clips of the most newsworthy segments and posting them to Twitter. These clips began generating thousands of shares, pulling in hundreds of thousands of views from people who may not have otherwise known that the debate was happening.

One clip, in which Gillum responded to alleged racist comments made by DeSantis, generated 1,400 retweets and 221,000 views. Another clip, where Gillum accused DeSantis of being wholly-owned by the NRA, collected 1.4 million views and 14,000 retweets. The most popular clip I could find — which shows Gillum’s closing remarks in the debate — has over 2 million views. All in all, CNN drove millions of additional views through Twitter video.

This wasn’t a fluke. Over the last year, Twitter has become a formidable player in the video space. Anecdotally, I’ve been monitoring the view counts of videos that come through my timeline feed, and it’s not uncommon at all to see viral videos with viewership numbers that would rival the most popular videos on much larger platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

But the evidence that Twitter has become a powerful driver of video viewership is far from just anecdotal. In its recent earnings report, the company revealed that video ads now generate more than 50 percent of its ad revenue. Year over year, in-stream video ad revenue doubled between the first half of 2017 and the same period in 2018.

Twitter’s success with video can be attributed, in part, to improvements in the video player and its rollout of pre-roll ads that allow it to share revenue with participating publishers. It’s also been aggressively inking exclusive production deals with news organizations, entertainment companies, and sports leagues.

One of its earliest experiments in these types of partnerships was for a live BuzzFeed morning show called AM to DM. Hosted by BuzzFeed correspondents Isaac Fitzgerald and Saeed Jones, the show, in some ways, resembles the morning news shows that have been produced by the major television networks for decades. But because it lives on Twitter, AM to DM is able to pull in audience participation from Twitter’s network, with the audience’s reaction driving much of the actual programming itself. A livestream from late last week generated over 400,000 views; BuzzFeed also pulls and posts shorter clips from the show, and these drive tens of thousands of additional views. Many of the episodes are sponsored, and Ad Age reported last year that AM to DM is able to sell ad packages of between $250,000 and $500,000.

After seeing success with AM to DM — and with other similar partnerships like those forged with Bloomberg and Cheddar —  Twitter has gone on an absolute tear in recent months, inking deals with over 50 different organizations that include the National Rugby League, Vice, and Sony Music Australia. It’s also expanded its monetization features so these publishers can monetize views that come from outside their country of origin (previously they only got a cut of in-country views).

Many publishers these days are forced to decide which platforms to invest their scarce video resources in. Snapchat has seen its user growth stagnate in recent months, partly due to a botched redesign, along with Instagram’s wholesale copying of its Story format. Facebook remains as a major player in video, but publishers have grown wary of the platform, especially after the recent revelations that it may have known about falsely-inflated video view counts and did nothing to fix the problem. IGTV, Instagram’s standalone video app, has so far failed to produce any meaningful viewership numbers.

I would argue that Twitter, with its rise in daily active users and increased emphasis on news content, should receive higher priority than many of these other platforms. Especially if you’re producing the kind of content that performs well on Twitter.

So what kind of content is that?

Newsworthy video seems to get disproportionate engagement on the platform. During the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings, live videos that showed protests outside the Capitol generated tens of thousands of views. The same can be said for the various #Resistance marches that have taken place over the past two years. If you’re a publisher that employs journalists who are reporting at a live scene — whether it’s a building fire, a hurricane, or a protest — then those journalists should have access to your company Twitter account and a mandate to capture the moment on video.

Studies have also shown that there’s a strong correlation between television watching and tweeting, with 60 percent of a show’s  “superfans” sharing their opinions on Twitter. This has led to several publishers launching TV recap shows directly on Twitter, often airing immediately after an episode or sporting event ends. Twitter recently announced a second BuzzFeed partnership for a show that will be called #What2Watch, which will be aired live for 40 minutes each week and discuss the latest TV programming. The NBA, which is one of the few sports leagues that allows anyone to post video highlights from its games, has seen explosive engagement on Twitter.

And I think we’re only at the beginning of the growth curve for Twitter video, especially since the platform hasn’t really created a way yet to easily sort through the hundreds of broadcasts that are posted to it each day. Given that Twitter is the dominant social media site for discussion of real-time events, it owns a niche that its much larger competitors — including Facebook and Google — haven’t been able to touch. For that reason, I think it’ll keep punching above its weight when it comes to online video, and any publisher would do well to invest at least some of their video resources into it.

Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at For a full bio, go here.

Photo by Jewel Mitchell on Unsplash