While Twitter's live-streaming efforts haven't helped boost the platform as it might have initially hoped, they have showed some promising signs, and have helped underline the platform's position as a key aggregator of real-time news and insights.
And they might be in for a boost - according to The New York Times, Twitter has signed a new agreement with NBC to broadcast limited coverage of the 2020 Olympics, which will help Twitter become more of a hub for associated discussion and sharing.
As per NYT:
"Each morning of the Olympics, fans will vote on which prime time live event or athlete they want to look in on - for about five minutes or less - that night on Twitter. It could be the final of the 100-meter dash, the floor routine of gymnast Simone Biles or something else. NBC will also produce a daily 20-minute studio show live from Tokyo for Twitter, and increase its production of highlights for the platform."
The main offering sounds somewhat similar to the program Twitter trialed with the NBA last season, in which fans could vote on a single player they wanted to watch during the second half of games. They would then be able to view a dedicated stream devoted to that player, live on Twitter.
VOTE NOW for #NBATwitterLive, an ISO-CAM of a player during the 2nd half of tonight’s @Bucks/@Raptors Game 4 VOTED BY YOU!— NBA (@NBA) May 21, 2019
Who do YOU want to watch?? ????
????: TNT (8:30pm/et)
????????: #NBATwitterLive ISO-CAM on @NBAonTNT
The NBA offering was the latest attempt by Twitter to incorporate the popularity of sports discussion on the platform with live video. Previous research has shown that some 94% of people now keep a smartphone on hand while watching TV, switching to apps in the ad breaks in order to stay up on the surrounding discussion. Twitter is a key platform for this - so the logical theory is that if Twitter can better incorporate these two processes into one platform, it should be on a winner.
That hasn't exactly played out in practice. Twitter's previous agreements to air NFL and MLB games on the platform didn't produce amazing results, while attempts to integrate a live Twitter feed alongside sports video have also fallen flat, in relative terms.
Part of the problem here is that people actually prefer to watch sports and shows on their larger screen TVs - with home TV sets now so big, and established as a key entertainment and interaction source within our homes, it makes sense that many people actually prefer to watch event television on these expanded surfaces, as opposed to mobile and desktop devices. Not everyone can do this, which is why mobile streaming is on the rise, with people now able to view on the go. But for major events, which viewers plan for in advance, the home TV set is simply more appealing.
So while, logically, combining the two sources - live TV and live discussion - into one stream seems to make sense, there's actually good reason as to why it hasn't caught on the way Twitter, along with Facebook and YouTube, would hope.
That's also why pairing the NBC's Winter Olympics coverage with Snapchat in 2018 actually seemed to make more sense - Snapchat's more condensed viewing options seek to provide an alternate perspective on the broadcast experience, as opposed to a mere replacement. Snapchat's shorter, vertical viewing process also holds more appeal with younger audiences - as reflected in the growing popularity of Snapchat's own Snap Originals programming - while the younger audience skew of the Winter Olympics, specifically, also better aligned with Snap's audience.
In this sense, it's a little strange that NBC has chosen to partner with Twitter instead this time around - but then again, Twitter, arguably, has a larger cultural footprint, and may provide a bigger platform for discussion. Twitter actually claims to see a major increase in usage around the Olympics, which is likely what swayed NBC's decision.
But regardless of the underlying logic, the agreement offers another opportunity for Twitter to showcase its streaming capacity on the big stage, and better engage its audience through this new partnership. Twitter will be hoping to utilize that extra exposure to bring in more users - though it may need to tweak its presentation style to really maximize its live viewing utility in this respect.
It should provide a boost for Twitter's numbers in the next year.