Twitter and television may seem like prime examples of new media and old, but they’re not as far apart as they may seem.
Exhibit A: Twitter’s latest feature. This week, news broke that the social media company is testing out a new “TV trending” box at the top of users’ timelines — just the latest illustration of something called the “second screen” experience.
Rumblings about the second screen have increased in recent months, thanks to a host of new studies. A big one: About half of all smartphone and tablet owners — folks who call the latest Apple (AAPL) iPad, Samsung (SSNLF) Galaxy or maybe (I guess) the Microsoft (MSFT) Surface their own — use their devices while watching TV.
While the most commonly cited activity during television was “looking up information in general,” Twitter has been busy promoting this as a grand new opportunity for advertisers. See, Twitter can add value to television commercials in two ways — targeting and timing.
Let’s start with the first ad opportunity. Twitter detects when and where a brand’s commercials are running on TV. Twitter then identifies users who have tweeted about the show that was playing when the ad ran. It can target those users again with an ad for the same brand, on a different medium.
This quick, cute video sums it up.
That’s not all, though. While the timing aspect is less obvious, it’s just as important — and actually strengthens the appeal of the first.
See, streaming television services, whether Netflix (NFLX) or Amazon (AMZN) Prime, have started a shift away from the importance of prime-time viewing. As users can watch shows when and where they want, the ads shown during the latest episode of New Girl aren’t as important.
To an extent, Twitter could be reversing that shift too. The real-time conversation of Twitter — live-tweeting plot twists and getting immediate commentary — could give viewers a reason to watch a show when advertisers want them too. Plus, a recent Neilsen study showed that Twitter buzz about a show actually causes more users to tune in around one-third of the time.
All in all, an engaged Twitter audience can improve ratings and add another medium for targeted ads. It’s no wonder that numerous television publishers have already been jumping on the second-screen trend. The Voice on Comcast’s (CMCSA) NBC and Disney‘s (DIS) Nashville on ABC — just two of many examples — both use hashtags to promote their shows and engage with viewers.
The obvious follow-up, though: Who cares?
Well, if the “second screen” trend continues, Twitter is an obvious winner. It could be heading for an IPO with a much strong revenue stream than social rival Facebook (FB), which struggled at first to turn its huge base into huge profits, and which is still playing catch-up in the real-time conversation realm.
Another clear winner — tablet- and smartphone-makers, including Apple, Samsung and Google (GOOG). The television integration is just one illustration of the promising reality for these companies: These gadgets are becoming important to nearly all corners of our worlds.
Plus, television networks could cash in on this trend as well. A second path for placing ads in front of viewers is a second path for ad sales, after all.
Of course, going back to the original study about tablet and smartphone use during TV-watching, it is also willfully naive to assume that the second screen is the only additional one. Countless viewers likely tweet about Game of Thrones from their smartphones … while browsing Facebook and eating dinner.
That picture is quite different from the one Twitter paints in its television commercial for television commercials. Twitter says: “We believe a user engaged enough with a TV show to tweet about it very likely saw the commercials as well.”
I say Twitter is underestimating the multitasking ability of today’s viewers. Heck, just consider a study recently reported by PandoDaily. It’s not specifically about social media or TV, but that still illustrates just how fragmented our use of smartphones and tablets already is.
Data point No. 1: The number of people who open news apps has grown by almost 40% year-over-year. This supports the growing importance of tablets and smartphones. But data point No. 2: Session lengths on those apps have fallen by 26%.
Wanna know why? Because folks are checking them in between Twitter, or in between TV commercials.
That raises an obvious wrinkle in Twitter’s and TV’s dream: With our attention so dispersed, can we really be immersed in anything?
And that says nothing of the fact that viewers can (and do) tweet about shows without turning on the TV in the first place — as appeared to be the case with SyFy’s Sharknado. Enter Janko Roettgers’ claim that the television is the real second screen and the smartphone or laptop is the primary one.
Still, at this stage in the game, even if second-screen targeting is far from perfect, it just might be the best option there is. Our media consumption is fragmented, so advertisers are left with little choice but to try and cover all the fragments.
As of this writing, Alyssa Oursler did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.