Unlikely bedfellows – Facebook and Twitter snuggle up to TV, but can they be trusted?

A few years ago it would have been difficult to imagine. The social media revolution was supposed to be the replacement to traditional media, not the saviour of it, but now both Twitter and Facebook are claiming to be the perfect partner for an industry looking increasingly out of touch.

Why this sudden affinity between two seemingly conflicting sectors? Despite the growing popularity of on-demand video websites, 98% of visual media is still consumed offline via our televisions so rather than working against traditional media like Netflix and YouTube, the social giants are desperately trying to buddy up with television in the hope that they can take some of the $70 billion in annual advertising revenue that the major networks continue to rake in.

So should traditional media be taken in by these flirtatious advances? And, if so, which of the social goliaths should they climb into bed with?

The pitch from Twitter

Twitter’s incentive for such an allegiance is obvious. With their audience starting to plateau at less than a quarter of Facebook’s, ad prices lead ballooning and their IPO imminent, it is their alliance with television that arguably represents their best hope for the future. If television networks do more to promote twitter as a part of their overall experience, it may help the “social information network”, as they Twitter prefer to be called, to finally break through their 215 million user ceiling.

And what’s in it for television? The trend in recent years has been to watch things on demand, which means two options; either users pay for a subscription via the likes of Netflix or they record it and skip through the commercials. Either amounts to the same outcome; zero advertising revenue. Twitter, however, may have the potential to change that. Twitter is all about doing things in real time, and real time tv means real time advertising revenue. TV networks can promote clips of live tv events on twitter along with short ads, so both twitter and the television network profit from offering an enhanced experience to users. Furthermore, those people that are tweeting about a live tv show/event can then be served with ads for the same brands that are airing TV commercials for that show. In short, they can pepper their audience with ads from every angle!

Consequently Twitter now meets with 40 TV networks quarterly to discuss how they can best capitalise on these opportunities. Most notably, they have struck a deal with Comcast that means users will be presented with a “see it” button on Twitter that, when clicked, activates a menu of options that allow users to watch the show directly or record it for later viewing.

It’s also rumoured that the new look Twitter is expected to feature a TV trending box and a stream specifically for TV related conversations. Clearly TV is at the core of their post-IPO strategy.

The pitch from Facebook

The potential is certainly not lost on Facebook either. Andy Mitchell, Director of Strategic Media and Platform Partnerships, explained that their goal is “for Facebook to be an important complement to traditional content, and it doesn’t matter on which platform. We want to help leverage our platform to help people discover more and different content.”

The pitch from Facebook to traditional media is less about splitting advertising revenue and more about data. According to Digital Trends, Facebook are in discussion with Time Warner and Verizon regarding the possibility of using Facebook to allow users to login to online video in return for the user details. In the other direction Facebook will be providing data about likes, shares and comments to 10 tv networks so that they can judge the performance of their shows from a social perspective rather than simply relying on traditional ratings.

The verdict

Despite Facebook’s much larger audience, the twitter case seems the more compelling. For a start, the public nature of twitter (versus the “walled garden” structure of Facebook) means people are far more likely to engage in mass conversation about events and shows, which in turn means conversations about TV are far more likely to go viral. Secondly, the simple, chronological format of twitter makes it far more compatible with real time events, whereas Facebook, with its more complex algorithm, will give its users a broader mix of content, some fresh and some (in social terms) very dated.

That said, clearly Facebook are taking the allegiance with television seriously, and it may be that their copycat behaviour earlier this year (as they integrated both hashtags and trending topics into their functionality; two terms so synonymous with Twitter), was evidence that they are already trying to overcome the real time advantage enjoyed by Twitter.

Ultimately, whatever the apparent synergies, traditional media companies will be wary of any long term allegiance with new media. Whether it’s with Twitter or Facebook, they will be only too aware that they are strengthening two companies ravenous for a slice of that $70 billion.

Dan