December 12, 2013

You Have to See It to Believe It – Twitter, Comcast, and the Future of TV

Sometimes, important stories just get overlooked. And so it was a few months back when Twitter and Comcast announced their new collaboration around the “See It” button. As TDG Members and regular readers will know, I believe Twitter and TV were made for each other. As I wrote earlier this year in a longer report, “Social TV has become a Twitter phenomenon.

The question, of course, is whether all of the social chatter about TV shows actually result in additional viewers for those shows. Comcast’s “See It” initiative, in which Xfinity TV customers will have one-click access to certain NBC shows right from the Tweets about those shows, is an admirable attempt to answer this question. I predict we will see more such Twitter integrations in 2014, as MVPDs and content owners alike standardize their social efforts on Twitter’s platform.

Two thoughts on why this matters.

Twitter (Still) Needs to Validate its Business Model around TV

It may be easy to overlook in a year in which Twitter enjoyed a highly successful IPO and now sports a nearly $30 billion market cap, but the business model for Twitter is still up in the air (to put it mildly). Despite roughly 50 million monthly active users (MAUs) in the US (215 million MAUs worldwide), and more than $250 million in revenue in the first half of 2013, Twitter’s relationship with advertisers is nascent and fragile. Despite almost universal adoption of Twitter by major retailers, for example, Twitter does not currently perform very well as a lead generation tool for online shopping, driving barely 2% of online sales in a recent study. By collaborating with Comcast on the “See It” project, Twitter is hoping for better results by using Twitter to build audiences for television shows. If the results are good, expect Twitter itself to quickly productize a generic version of “See It” for the rest of the TV industry.

MVPDs Need to Build New Discovery Pathways to TV Shows

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. The days of relying on the electronic program guide (EPG) to help users find something to watch on TV are over. Today’s TV viewer is much more likely to discover new shows online, either via search or social networks. The problem with social networks and television, however, is that (unlike GIFs or LOLCats) posts about TV shows almost never include a link to the show itself.

There are a few reasons for this, some of which make more sense than others. First, unlike the Web, there is no common address space for TV shows, which are currently distributed through multiple channels, including MVPDs, content providers’ own websites, as well as third-party aggregators like Hulu or YouTube. Second, first-run TV shows online are generally behind an authenticated pay wall (TV Everywhere anyone?), which varies depending on which pay-TV provider you have. Third, TV shows are subject to windowing, in which shows appear and disappear over time as their “window” for online availability opens and closes. All of this makes linking to shows via social network posts (which may circulate online for days or even weeks before running out of steam) a very uncertain proposition.

The “See It” project has workarounds in place for some of these issues. First, “See It” is limited only to a limited number of shows on NBC, which is owned by Comcast. While this should ensure a decent user experience (i.e., the links will work and not be dead), it’s not a particularly scalable solution. Second, Comcast is not embedding links (shortened or otherwise) for the show in the Tweet itself. Instead it is including a pointer to a Comcast landing page, which will presumably handle authentication and determine whether the episode is available for direct streaming or via some other method (i.e. DVR for future episodes). Again, creativity points to the folks involved with coming up with a solution that works at all, but will be interesting to see whether social network users will tolerate the “friction” of such a landing page in large numbers.


The future of TV needs to include new ways to discover and navigate to TV shows online. As I wrote earlier this year in my report on The Future of TV, A View from 2013, the days of the universal TV user interface are over. Instead, TV will become integrated into a wide variety of applications and pathways that people use online, from search engines to social networks. Comcast and Twitter deserve credit for taking a first step in this direction with their “See It” collaboration. The TV industry needs this type of innovation to attract and retain younger viewers, and we urge more companies to do likewise in the coming year. The future of TV depends on it.

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