Late last week, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo discussed the company’s growing role not just in how people consume traditional media’s entertainment and news, but how they interact and share their experiences and opinions surrounding it. A number of commentators have advanced the themes touched on in the interview, suggesting that Twitter is fast becoming the de facto leader in the race to be television’s “second screen” – a companion role that many hardware, software and Web services companies are currently chasing.
While I don’t know if it was Costolo’s intention to lay claim to the second screen, I have to agree with observers that it’s certainly one of the roles that Twitter is growing into. As my wife and I watched the presidential debate Tuesday night, we simultaneously followed it on Twitter, like hundreds of thousands – or millions? – of others. Simultaneously reading what others were saying, whether friends, pundits or strangers, made the experience incredibly more robust and relevant to us. As Costolo described in his interview, Twitter lets people shift their media consumption “from a single point of view in a filtered way to a multi-perspective, inside-out, unfiltered view of what people think of the event.”
I started working in online media more than 20 years ago, hoping to help newspaper companies extend their journalistic franchises and reinvent the Fourth Estate for the digital world. Unfortunately for most of them, they didn’t and couldn’t (though, I am super-excited to see what Larry Kramer does with his shake-up of USA Today). What Twitter is doing now, I believe, is showing us that a real-time social Web service can add value to an important live news event being passionately followed by millions of citizen journalists and millions more readers, viewers, reviewers and analysts. It gives me hope yet for the development of the kind of powerful digital Fourth Estate that many folks thought the Internet could support.
What does it mean to be a second screen to other media? As we saw Tuesday night, Twitter didn’t just help people view the debate better; it helped all media outlets delivering the debate. It made TV better. As we saw during the Olympics, Twitter not only helped people follow and celebrate the successes and spectacle of the global sporting event, but it also helped NBCU’s ratings. As we’ve seen with innumerable different news and entertainment events, Twitter has been able not only to deliver more relevant content and participation to audiences, it also helped the core media providers retain and grow their audiences. If we were biologists, we might single it out as one of those special good parasites.
Does this mean I believe Twitter will dominate all of the dozens and dozens of imagined second screen applications, from content check-in to content discovery, synchronized couponing to personalization? No. I believe that the intersection between media like the television and social web services will be both wide and deep and diverse. If anything, Twitter’s success in leading and controlling a big part of the early second screen market will encourage other similar development. We’ll see.
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