Reports this week of TV commercials finding a place on Facebook may seem like a gamechanger for social media, but Twitter has already made serious inroads on this front.
What might not be as apparent to anyone but the most diehard users at this point is how Twitter has evolved in the past year from a service that subsisted entirely on strings of text no more than 140 characters long to more of a multimedia mix. And that has significant implications not just for Twitter and its users, but for the media business itself.
initiative called Amplify, which has enabled more than 30 media companies to generate revenue from ads attached to longer clips of content embedded in tweets.
Yet another form of video that will be coming to more and more Twitter feeds is TV Ad Targeting, a clever tool the company took out of beta last week that identifies someone who tweets about a show as likely to have just seen a commercial, and streams to them an accompanying digital promotion.
It's an integral part of a push to generate ad revenues for a company that, while currently valued at around $10 billion, was feared not to have a workable business model when it first burst on the scene seven years ago.
President of global revenue Adam Bain has become the force behind that monetization momentum since leaving News Corp. in 2010 to join Twitter. But he's careful not to be seen as an interloper in the media business.
"We think everyone else in digital has come to market to disrupt the TV business," Bain said. "Twitter has come to market with something that is helpful to the TV business."
But the company's video makeover isn't just about marketing; Twitter is also looking a lot like a venue for programming: Several innovative new episodic shortform series have used Twitter as a distribution platform in recent months.
If this newfangled Twittervision finds traction -- and that's far from assured -- it could change not only our understanding of entertainment but also Twitter itself. A company self-styled as the pre-eminent second-screen adjunct to TV suddenly looks a lot like the first screen, too.
"What it tells me is that Twitter is going to be a player in video distribution," said Erik Flannigan, executive VP of multiplatform strategy and development at Viacom Entertainment Group, home to megabrands including MTV and Comedy Central. "There is room in the marketplace."
The entertainment industry already knows the power of Twitter. The global social-media platform allows its more than 200 million users a direct connection to the people and properties associated with the content they love. Fans can bond with each other over that content, their communication doubling as free marketing.
Where Twitter has differentiated itself from rivals like Facebook is in being the go-to platform for sharing experiences in real time -- particularly live TV programming. No wonder Twitter's signature hashtags seem to adorn just about every program on the air.
But that's not where the company's showbiz impact ends.
Its pitch to the TV industry is that it represents the best place to capture the conversation about programming, which makes for a natural partnership. As Bain puts it, Twitter is a "force multiplier" for that conversation, generating an echo effect that lures others on the platform to sample on air what everyone else is talking about in real time.
Twitter has demonstrated its power as a global water cooler time and again, most recently earlier this month with its ability to take a Syfy movie with little pre-awareness, "Sharknado," and turn it into a minor sensation quite literally overnight. Midyear strategic partnerships with ad behemoths Starcom and WPP, not to mention an alliance with Nielsen that will yield a new measurement of audience engagement, is all the proof you need that Twitter has gotten the attention of every entity in the TV ecosystem that matters.
Even as the TV industry gets better at providing more post-live viewing options via VOD, the reality hasn't changed that most revenue is made in that first window of advertising. So there's renewed need to establish a differentiated value-add to live TV.
For Twitter, the advertising opportunity has come in an area that skeptics early on thought was inviolate territory: inside the stream of tweets from each user's followers. Bain, 39, has built a portfolio of "promoted" opportunities targeting individual tweets or accounts that allow marketers to tap Twitter's highly engaged base of users, particularly on the mobile platform.
While Twitter has always been an effective springboard for TV, the platform previously strictly sent users to the TV set or to a link in another browser or app via retweet. That changed in June 2012, with the introduction of Twitter Cards, which essentially expanded a space once restricted to 140 characters to accommodate anything from a still photo to a video player -- all without leaving Twitter.
"Twitter Cards was the first evolution of the platform where we saw people moving new types of content through," said Bain, who mastered the art of digital ad sales while still at News Corp.'s Fox Audience Network, where he was responsible for driving revenues at properties including MySpace.