Chronic problems with lackluster user growth and engagement, not to mention last quarter’s surprise revenue shortfall, have made Twitter boss Dick Costolo a veritable punching bag for analysts and investors. But the embattled CEO may actually have found the key to his own and his company’s salvation.
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Twitter’s March acquisition of live video streaming startup Periscope may be just what Costolo needs to get off the ropes and become the comeback champion of the year. And I think the witty CEO knew that when he declared Periscope “the winner” of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight in a recent Tweet.
For the record, I didn’t see anything controversial about the tweet. Contrary to what some among the Twitterati and the media have suggested, Costolo was not thumbing his nose at piracy concerns but promoting Periscope’s use to enhance the viewing experience. Even HBO, which televised the fight, used Periscope from inside Manny Pacquiao’s locker room.
Granted, copyright infringement is a real concern that Twitter will have to come to grips with just as YouTube has with its Content ID system. Besides, Periscope is certainly not the only game in town. Every live streaming video app – including Livestream and Meerkat – will have to comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, imperfect as it is.
Far more exciting is the enormous potential, not just for the technology in general, but for Periscope as part of Twitter at this very point in time. Now that more than a billion people have smartphones, the ability to seamlessly broadcast live to all your followers could be the killer app within an app that Twitter has long needed to attract and engage mainstream users.
Think about the evolution of online video. Google’s YouTube unit brought static videos to a billion users. Twitch, which Amazon bought last year, provides live video streaming to the gamer community and, in just four years since it launched, is now one of the top sources of peak Internet traffic in the U.S.
Now, what social platform comes to mind when I say, “real time feed?” That’s right, Twitter.
The one thing Twitter has over Facebook is that it’s more spontaneous. And while short bursts of text, links and photos is a cool concept, that’s not how we live. We live in real time. We live in audio and video. And if you want everyone to see and hear what you’re seeing, hearing, and saying right now, in the moment, Periscope on Twitter is a pretty good way to do it.
The possibilities are endless: from augmenting planned events like games, concerts and election rallies to spontaneous occurrences like your kid deciding it’s time to figure out how to walk or a bunch of wild turkeys suddenly swooping in, landing, and gobbling around your property, which just happened here the other day.
And while I hate to get creepy just when we were having such a good PG time of it, there will certainly be no shortage of narcissistic, inappropriate and lewd uses that are likely to take selfies and sexting to a whole new level. While Periscope does have an option to delete videos after they’re finished, I’m not exactly sure how Twitter handles that.
That’s actually a decent argument for broadcasting over an ephemeral app like Snapchat. Just like in real life, there are no records of chats. Even Snapchat’s Stories clips vanish after 24 hours. Unfortunately, while the app does have video chat capability, it’s more like FaceTime and not oriented toward broadcasting to a large audience. But I’m sure CEO Evan Spiegel could do something about that if he was so inclined.
Of course, this sort of thing is still in the early stages so who knows where it’ll go? And there are all sorts of issues to be worked out: everything from piracy and privacy to advertising and monetization. In any case, I think Costolo is onto something big. I think he knows it. And if he plays his cards right, this just might be the answer to Twitter’s chronic user growth and engagement woes. We’ll see.