Twitter is the best search engine for Live TV

twitterWhen it comes to the question of whether linear TV has a future or not, there are different opinions, depending on how much significance one sees in early trends indicating a shift to on-demand TV. Personally, I expect this shift to streaming video content to continue until the point at which traditional TV broadcasters have to end their linear programming. Netflix, YouTube, iTunes and many other (often regionally-focused) streaming and video-on-demand services are superior in many ways. Certainly breaking the established habits of TV consumers is a challenge which sometimes might take many years, if not decades. But from my perspective, I do not see anything that would make linear TV a timeless type of media.

Whenever discussing the future of TV, the question of live events arises. It is true that current streaming and on demand services focus mainly on recorded content, whereas the traditional broadcast TV often remains the prime destination for watching live events such as sport and music events. On the other hand, many of the biggest sports games and entertainment shows are actually available for streaming online – either through the TV channels’ online stream or via dedicated websites/microsites. In addition there is lots of high quality live content for niche interests available online that no broadcast TV channel picks up. The tricky thing for the potential audience is to find it.

Here I think Twitter can play an important role. And it already does. Observing my own usage behaviour I realized how much I rely on Twitter’s search to find live content. When U.S. President Barack Obama held the White House Summit on Cybersecurity at Stanford University on Friday, I read about it somewhere on the web. Since the article mentioned that there would be a live stream of the keynotes, I opened twitter and searched for “white house security summit stream”. Immediately dozens often tweets appeared directing me to the live stream which was broadcasted via YouTube.

If there is a live stream, somebody has tweeted about it

What makes Twitter an excellent search engine for any kind of high-profile live stream is a simple fact: If there is a live stream, somebody has tweeted about it. And due to Twitter’s real time nature, the latest, most recent tweets will appear most prominently, which decreases the time from search to success. Traditional search engines cannot compete with Twitter when it comes to finding live events in real time – which is why Google and Twitter just agreed on having tweets shown up in Google searches.

Predicting in detail how the TV and video landscape could evolve in the next years is hard. But we can make some assumptions: YouTube, Amazon (that owns Twitch) and other streaming services will most likely invest into their live offerings, increasing their long-tail productions (say local bands or video game sessions) as well as bringing more mass-market events online (major sports events, big-name concerts etc). Netflix might enter the live segment as well. In addition, specialized niche-services such as Boiler Room, which broadcasts recorded and live “underground” club gigs, will keep growing their audience. With an increasing variety and quantity of offerings, discovery becomes an even bigger issue. But at least for those who already know what they are searching for, Twitter basically has solved this issue. If Twitter recognized the crucial role it can capture in the live video search, distribution and discovery game, it might eventually launch a dedicated service for finding live TV events.

Certainly Twitter won’t be the only contender in this segment. If the major video services should decide to put more emphasize on live content, they themselves will improve visibility and discovery. Also, the number of dedicated aggregators and search engines for streaming content will grow. Recently Berlin-based JustWatch.com launched, joining services such as Watchily and Can I Stream.It in the quest to help users finding their preferred shows and movies. None of the sites include live streams yet. JustWatch.com CEO David Croyé tells me that the startup would not rule out adding live content in the future. The service’s name for sure sounds suitable for that.

No matter what others do, Twitter has two major advantages in the live stream distribution market: It does not need editorial staff in order to index and surface information for live streams. Users do the work. In addition, Twitter ensures that content from all kinds of streaming providers shows up. As long as a live stream has a URL, it can be tweeted, and it will be tweeted.

By helping content providers and event organizers to promote and distribute live streams, Twitter could open up a new revenue source, for example in the form of a “promoted live events” ad format akin to the existing “promoted tweets”. It might even insert itself as a distribution partner to live streamed events, requesting a cut from any advertising revenues. Or it could provide event organizers with a pay wall feature to allow for charging users for access to a live stream within a tweet.

Putting the business potential for Twitter aside: From a “TV” consumer’s point of view, Twitter already is quite useful in finding live streams, and there is lots of room for further exploration of this field.

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