Forget the debate over whether Twitter wants to get in the media business. Twitter wants to be a media player.
The San Francisco-based company, along with multiple Hollywood producers and network execs, are in serious talks about the possibility of launching several original video series via Twitter, according to sources. One project in particular could debut this year, potentially as early as the fall, said sources with knowledge of the discussions. Twitter, they said, has been actively pitching a select group of advertisers on a video series that would live on Twitter and enable users to participate in real time in some fashion.
Twitter declined to comment.
The original series has been described by sources as similar to MTV reality shows The Real World and The Hills; in fact, one of the producers behind The Hills is said to be behind the project. Per sources, the show could live on a stand-alone Twitter page similar to the events page that Twitter launched in partnership with Nascar in June, although the series’ page would more closely resemble a microsite in order to feature an expanded video player. Another possibility is that the series would be distributed within tweets—promoted, organic or pinned to a brand’s Twitter page—with users clicking to expand the tweet into a full-fledged video player.
The inaugural effort would be a proof of concept project that Twitter would use to recruit producers and brand sponsors in developing future series.
“This is real,” said one source. “This is more than just talk.”
And the talk is more than just about launching a Web show. Rather, Twitter is said to be aiming toward changing the way people consume and discover media. “We’re talking about building content on top of Twitter,” said another industry insider. “That’s a big deal.” Twitter wouldn’t be developing the content, but would instead serve as a distribution vehicle and advertising middleman.
Besides looking to shake up the media space, Twitter has a more obvious motivation for getting into the series game. It regularly sells out of inventory for its core ad units like Promoted Tweets. “Right now, they are leaving money on the table,” said one source.
With the potential series, Twitter is aiming to get big-budget advertisers on board, with sponsorship deals possibly running around $4 million. Brand involvement would include product integration as well as Promoted Tweet-type content that would run within the feed.
Such in-feed content would appear alongside user tweets, which would likely include standard social TV commentary and discussion. However, theoretically user tweets would somehow influence the show as it airs. Using Twitter for real-time viewer participation isn’t unprecedented. Earlier this year NBC and Ford used Twitter and other social networks to let viewers interact with contestants in the brand-sponsored reality competition series Escape Routes.
Traditionally Twitter has served as a social hub complementary to TV and disputed notions that it’s a media company. This week Twitter CEO Dick Costolo told The Wall Street Journal that Twitter is a "technology company in the media business." But airing a video series on a platform would put Twitter alongside digital media companies like AOL, AOL-owned Huffington Post, Yahoo, Hulu and YouTube—although recent moves by the company have hinted that Twitter is building its media footprint.
In May, ESPN and Twitter announced a deal to develop campaigns on the platform tied to premier sports events. The first effort was linked to the NBA Finals in June and had Twitter users tweet photos with the hashtag #GameFace, with the content then being displayed on air and on ESPN.com.
Also that month Twitter debuted the #NASCAR hashtag page that aggregated tweets and photos for users to view as a companion to the Pocono 400, and rolled out expanded tweets so that media partners’ tweets could include an article headline and opening line, photos or video that can be played within the Twitter feed.