Must-See TV? Twitter’s Livestreaming Play Has Me Excited

Twitter and livestreaming go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and Twitter may have found the perfect formula. It's one that any organization with a large-scale event should keep an eye on, because they might want to try it someday.

The livestreaming of events has clearly held quite a bit of value for attendees who found themselves stuck at home. Heck, the Racehorse Owners Association just re-angled its whole event around livestreams.

Last week, however, the idea of streaming content online may have hit critical mass—for a variety of wildly different reasons.

The most obvious (and troubling) example of this was at the top of the news cycle, where the death of Philando Castile after being shot by a police officer—a tragedy recorded by his girlfriend and published via Facebook Live—showed that live video is about more than manufactured moments. It can be used to tell stories of vital importance in a way you can’t with any other medium. That’s even if you’d like to look away, as a lot of people did when they heard about the video of Castile.

As sad and deeper-question-creating as that all is, such notice is likely to give livestreams cultural acceptance in many walks of life, not just as a news or advocacy tool, but as a basic communication tool. We’re past the days of ChatRoulette’s shock factor for the sake of shock, as well as the janky solutions that kept online livestreaming a niche option.

My focus today, however, is further down the news cycle, where one social network’s livestream offering has me thinking very big picture.

Last week, Twitter started streaming live from Wimbledon, combining live video from the Grand Slam tennis tournament with a sidebar of related tweets in a dead-simple but genius combination of television and technology. It’s something of a dress rehearsal for Twitter, which won a streaming partnership with the National Football League. Thursday Night Football is about to make Twitter into more than just a second screen for sports fans: It may, in fact, be the first screen for a whole lot of people.

Twitter is also said to be eyeing a number of other streaming opportunities, and on Monday, it announced a deal with CBS News to livestream the two major political conventions this month.

That’s an awesome place for Twitter to be as a company. Facing headache after headache from Wall Street, CEO Jack Dorsey may have found a way to turn Twitter into a more mainstream tool without scaring off the power users that give it cultural relevance.

Twitter just created a way to marry prowess as a conversation-owner with many of the ideas that have made companies like Twitch into major niche offerings.

And I wonder if this livestreaming approach will eventually fall into the hands of people with smaller events.

big Potential

As a lot of folks know, Twitter is the place to be during a big event. It’s perfectly suited for real-time conversations. It allows in-person attendees to get their own voices out there, to network, to launch their own deeper conversations about the things they’re learning.

Twitter just created a way to marry that prowess as a conversation-owner with many of the ideas that have made companies like Twitch into major niche offerings.

Twitch, owned by Amazon, already plays a big role in the Games Done Quick series of charity events, as I explained last year. But its focus on the gaming community limited its reach. (Not that Twitch probably minds, considering that it has such a tight hold on that audience.)

But Twitter already owns a good chunk of the conversation. There’s nothing stopping it from expanding beyond sporting events and putting the technology to good use at super-events like SalesForce’s annual DreamForce conference, the Consumer Electronics Show, or South by Southwest.

(It even has a good excuse to do it for SXSW. The event next March will be the 10-year anniversary of Twitter’s coming-out party at the Austin, Texas, festival.)

And if Twitter and Dorsey were really smart, they would sell livestreaming even further down the food chain.

A Revenue Model?

Twitter has always been dogged to a degree by the reputation that it’s an open-ended network that speaks to specific groups with specific interests. It does well with relatively narrow audiences and with people who have large tribes of their own (see Bieber, Justin), but it has trouble winning over the broader public because of its slightly esoteric nature and the fact that it’s less focused on friends than Facebook and Instagram are.

This issue has people who care more about their stock portfolios than their audiences frequently discussing how disappointing Twitter is as a company, and why the company should sell to the highest bidder.

On the other hand, it’s pretty much a perfect communication vessel for associations, which are nothing if not niche and designed to enable people to speak to one another. Twitter can help broaden an organization’s reach, as well: Not everyone can make it to every event, and if members or other potential attendees are stuck at home or the office, they can still get a little bit of the hashtag magic.

It’s tough to make money from people simply tweeting out your content and never making it to your events, but livestreaming is a different beast: It could create some new revenue streams if executed properly.

It’s not too much of a reach to see associations livestreaming events of their own using Twitter, sponsored by advertisers and with potential premium offerings for some users, like daily content breakdowns via email. And, hey, if Twitter actually allowed associations to charge for the video stream, that would be even better—but even if it didn’t, the potential to draw in new members with this technology could make the investment worthwhile.

During the past five years or so, we’ve seen an impressive improvement in the recording capabilities and production values of livestreaming, but two-way communication via the technology has taken a backseat. Before this year, the execution was off, to put it mildly.

For tennis and football, at least, Twitter may have figured out a way to make livestreaming work as both a broadcast and a communication medium. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they make it work for you and your members—because it could be a game changer.

(Twitter screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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