Twitter is quietly becoming a television station. Over the last few months while Jack Dorsey has been running Twitter, we’ve see the company build up its live video streaming businesses. And I’m not talking about user-generated videos on Periscope, which itself is a big winner for Twitter as I’ve explained before. No, Twitter is spending hundreds of millions of dollars this year buying the rights to live stream sports, news, events and other mainstream broadcasts.
In just the last two months, Twitter, has bought and/or streamed the following major live events (and even an old fashioned television news station) that I can think of off the top of my head:
The Democrat and Republican National Conventions
People think of Netflix as the de facto standard for video streaming, and rightly so. But also in the video streaming business are:
Sony’s Playstation Vue Live TV streaming service is the closest thing to a true competitor to the traditional live broadcast television model. It basically provides all the major television channels streamed live over the Internet. At $20/month Playstation VUE is lot cheaper than standard cable/satellite television subscriptions, but it’s far from free.
Which brings us back to Twitter and their approach to buying the rights to broadcast live events and entire television stations like Bloomberg TV to Twitter users — for free. How long before Twitter starts cutting deals to stream other live news cable channels from my old employer, Fox News/Fox Business, CNN, and so on?
Twitter’s new live streaming rights bonanza is setting it up to become a major distributor of live television content. Jack Dorsey’s vision here for Twitter is for it to become a major outlet for sports, concerts and other live events that people will then discuss and report about right on Twitter itself.
Twitter is installed on billions of devices, including smartphones, tablets, smartTVs, and smart streaming devices like Apple TV. Of the major video streaming platforms mentioned above, only Netflix is installed on more streaming devices that Twitter. Being already installed on billions of devices obviously gives Twitter’s streaming services a big advantage over, for example, Sony Playstation Vue, which is only a a few hundred million devices at this point.
Twitter’s vision is that in five years, when you want to watch a major sports, concert or other live event, instead of turning on your cable/satellite box that is connected to your TV, you’ll tell your smartphone or smartTV to just pull up the event on the Twitter app. Twitter hopes you’ll just stream it live from Twitter on your smartphone onto your TV or other screen (including holographic projectors, as I’ve outlined before).
Will it work? Well, one important thing to remember is that Twitter’s streaming services aren’t really competing against the other aforementioned futuristic streaming services. Twitter and all these streaming services are competing against traditional cable/satellite TV, which still own 99.99% of the live event content business. In five years, that will be closer to 70% or so. And in a decade, 30% or less.
I have a long history with Twitter, including being a big bear on the company after its IPO and subsequent bubbling, turning bullish after it’d crashed, having lost money on that first investment and eventually selling it for a small loss before recently buying it back in the low teens. I’m still holding most of those shares. The streaming TV business has the potential to actually get Twitter’s user base growing again — and making that user base much more profitable. I wouldn’t want to chase Twitter now that it’s up 40% from my cost basis, but I do think there’s a of value to be created by this company if they deliver on this and their long-term strategies.