September 3, 2013

A Heavenly Acquisition – Twitter, Trendrr, and the Future of TV

Twitter consolidated its hold on the social TV space last week by acquiring the social TV analytics startup, Trendrr. As reported last spring in Social TV: Myths, Facts and the Future, social TV has become a largely Twitter-based phenomenon. From the Super Bowl to Miley Cyrus’ transformation from child star into the second coming of Madonna at last week’s 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, the pop culture conversation happens on Twitter. The Trendrr acquisition, along with Twitter’s earlier acquisition of Bluefin labs and its partnership with Nielsen to develop the Nielsen Twitter social TV ratings, demonstrates how important TV is becoming to the business of Twitter.

Why is this happening now, and what does it mean for the future of TV?

TV Needs Twitter for Engagement.

First, keep in mind that Twitter is not by design a social TV app. Not even close. As with nearly every aspect of Twitter’s evolution, the use of Twitter to talk about TV shows has largely happened organically, from the bottom up. Twitter provides a generic platform for real-time digital conversations, and it turns out that one of the major topics users want to talk about is TV (go figure). Viewers began tweeting about their favorite shows, and using hash tags to let other viewers join in the fun. Producers of individual shows quickly figured this out and started using Twitter themselves to interact with viewers and build audience engagement. The result is a positive feedback loop between Twitter and TV in which each platform drives the other.

Earlier this month Nielsen released a new study largely confirming this relationship, reporting that higher ratings drive higher Twitter engagement in 48% of cases, and that higher Twitter engagement drove higher ratings in 29% of the cases studied.i For better or for worse, Twitter has become part of the basic fabric of how TV shows (and especially live events) are conceived, produced, and promoted.

Twitter Needs TV for Monetization.

To Twitter’s credit, it identified this symbiotic relationship with TV early on and moved aggressively to capitalize on it. In addition to its acquisitions, Twitter hired TV industry vet, Fred Graver, to lead its TV efforts. The goal of these efforts is clear. Twitter needs ways to turn its massive traffic into revenue.

Like Facebook, a lot of Twitter’s traffic is personal in nature and difficult to monetize. However, when viewers use Twitter to talk about TV shows (especially in real-time while watching the show) is a totally different story. Television is a commercial medium with lots of dollars at stake. Even better (for Twitter), passive TV viewing is no longer enough for either shows or advertisers.

Engagement is the new coin of the realm, and Twitter has it. Although it is too early to say if it has “cracked the code” on monetizing second-screen engagement, the potential is there and Twitter seems to be making some very shrewd moves to make it happen. We thus expect TV to be a significant piece of the Twitter revenue story going forward.


As the old saying, goes “opposites attract.” At first glance, TV and Twitter appear to be strange bedfellows. Television is the ultimate passive, visual, broadcast medium, while Twitter is reactive, text-based, chaotic, and fragmented. Look deeper, however, and you begin to see a surprising symbiosis. Television needs to engage its viewers more deeply (which Twitter enables) and Twitter users need something to react to (which TV provides in spades). The result, quite possibly, is two disparate mediums that seem perfectly designed to complement one another.

As Forrest Gump would say, Twitter and TV go together “like peas and carrots,” and this new blend of mediums may have major implications for the future of TV.

iThe Follow Back: Understanding the Two-Way Causal Relationship Between Twitter Activity and TV Viewership,” (accessed August 30, 2013).

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