What #Music’s Failures Teach Us About Twitter’s #TV Future

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Twitter #Music hasn’t exactly shaken the firmament of the musical landscape. After releasing the admittedly gorgeous app on the iOS App Store early this year, it has drifted down the charts and the general consensus is that it’s a relative dead end.

How Twitter rolled out #Music, and what it learned from the app, will likely inform how it handles a move to embrace a more important media frontier: TV, or rather #TV.

After its experiments with #Music, Twitter is on the verge of serving up a new television-oriented experience to users of its core apps.  This effort will likely be positioned to avoid the failures of #Music and take advantage of the strengths of the platform.

#Music Stands Alone

At the time, the launch of a standalone app dedicated to music made some sense. Pop artists  are among the most followed and influential users of the service.  Lots and lots of Twitter users follow these artists. Offering them the ability to listen to music programmed by their industry favorites seemed to be a cool use of Twitter’s data.

It also played off of a trend that Twitter had begun earlier in the year with the video sharing app Vine. music_nowplaying

Vine, though it was an acquisition Twitter had made, marked the first high-profile external app designed to feed content and interaction back into the main service itself. Previous to this, Twitter had been focused on the main product, adding features like Cards and other engagement-boosting features.

Vine marked a departure, and then #Music followed shortly thereafter. For a while it looked like there was going to be an ongoing trend of Twitter offering up sections of the service as standalone apps.

The #Music app was well designed, with a crisp modern interface and a very attractive browsing method for users looking to discover new music. But, while launching an external app that presented ‘music data’ seemed cool and a good idea, it was a misfire.

Pre-IPO Twitter is all about demonstrating its usefulness and indispensability to users at large. It’s in the midst of trying to project the message that it’s an ‘active’ service. You put things in, you get things out, the process is cyclical.

#Music was all about passive consumption of the feed but — even worse — it was free of context. There were no conversations happening in or around #Music. No playlists, no real way to comment on the musical tastes of the ‘programmers’ of the channels. The kinds of conversations that happen on Twitter proper around music and television weren’t happening in #Music.

From what we understand, the fact that #Music did not do well is well known in the halls of Twitter. The VP who drove its development, Kevin Thau, left just days after it was released to head to Biz Stone’s startup Jelly. We don’t know why he went, but the feeling of some at Twitter is that the app was rushed and the development was handled poorly, leading to a rough launch. Perhaps Thau was just as unhappy with the way it came out.

Obviously, if we can tell from the outside how badly it went, Twitter itself knows. And that’s why the strategy when it comes to leveraging these streams of ‘music data’ has changed dramatically over the past couple of months.

There has been a handful of updates that boost #Music’s ability to help you ‘find’ new music, including scanning your library and suggesting things like songs or new artists to follow. But the most important changes have been the deals that Twitter has cut with Apple, Spotify and Rdio.
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Apple is already a Twitter partner, so it didn’t seem too surprising to see a Twitter Music channel pop up as an option in iTunes Radio. Then, Twitter launched a #Music app for Spotify which duplicates some of the same categories and discovery stuff powered by Twitter’s We Are Hunted acquisition. Later, Twitter cut a deal with Rdio to offer several of #Music’s charts inside the app.

From what we understand, one of Twitter’s big discoveries was that people want music, but they don’t want to pay for it. You can help people to ‘discover’ music all you want, but if they have to buy it off of iTunes to continue to listen, they’re not interested.

With these streaming deals, Twitter gets to be associated with cutting edge musical acts and being a place to interact with those artists, but inhabits existing silos of data rather than creating its own enclosed space.

With these deals, Twitter changed its stance to reflect the realization that it’s best to go where the users already are. A stance that it seems likely to carry through when it launches its TV-focused update.

If #Music had been a runaway success, I don’t doubt that we’d see the service getting even more attention and expansion. It’s highly likely that we’d also see separate apps dedicated to media of other types like #TV, #Movies and more. Twitter has an incredible platform that collects an amazing amount of data every day on all kinds of media consumption. As it stands, I wouldn’t expect too many more updates to the #Music app, which is all but dead at this point. It’s served its purpose.

But the real strengths of Twitter don’t lie in presenting this information passively. Instead, it’s about taking advantage of its real-time nature to offer an experience that feels ‘alive’ and active. This is the lesson learned from #Music, and one that Twitter will likely apply to future media-related efforts, including TV.

Twitter #TV

Twitter is about to embrace the TV in an enormous way, and for very good reason.

Twitter has built a little reputation for itself, especially among those who closely follow the company, of being willing to treat its users like guinea pigs. Twitter isn’t alone here, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at Disrupt that there are hundreds of ‘versions’ of Facebook out there at any given time. But Twitter experiments so much with its design and layout that it actually had to make an official statement that its PR department can refer press and interested parties to to explain why ‘their Twitter’ doesn’t look like a friend’s Twitter.

But not all of Twitter’s experiments are of the ‘A/B testing’ variety. It also has a department dedicated to experiments that it hopes will result in better user engagement and follow behavior. That department was responsible for the recent @Magicrecs account which used an algorithm to recommend you accounts to follow and tweets to read. This feature was recently folded into the apps themselves as a push notification that will function in much the same way.

Another test which could see its way into the Twitter apps proper soon is these ‘trending’ banners for TV shows that have been appearing at the top of app users’ timelines. The banners come in a variety of flavors that feature show information, a click-through action that reveals relevant accounts and tweets and more.

This is what Twitter learned from #Music. Rather than launching a separate #TV app, it seems much more likely at this point that Twitter will keep any new television-oriented features it launches ‘in house’ in the official apps.

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The feature might look a little like the above (fake) mockup, though recent reports via All Things D pin down the new design as having no buttons, offering a swipe-able interface of feeds. That might make sense on the iPhone, but not so much on the iPad. We’ll see how that shakes down in the final version, given Twitter’s penchant for experimentation.

In our hypothetical mockup of the app above, you’ll note that TV gets its own section outside of Discover. I’m up in the air on this one, as I haven’t heard either way, but giving TV its very own feed outside of the traditional ‘Discover’ tab makes some sense. Especially given how important television has become to Twitter.

Each show in the feed could be paired with tweets about it, including synopsis or analysis articles alongside tweets from ‘regular folks’ just chatting about the show. Perhaps even media embedded in tweets with highlights of a program. The message of the whole thing would be very clear though: this is a conversation happening right now and you can join it.

Leveraging the real-time nature of Twitter will be instrumental to the success or failure of Twitter and TV. Facebook is gunning hard for the television market, and has been releasing big numbers surrounding ‘interactions’ generated by Likes and comments. Depending on how you interpret those numbers, Twitter either has its work cut out for it or has little to worry about.

Twitter has been working on this TV thing in a dedicated fashion for quite a while. It made itself into a bona-fide internet TV ratings system with Nielsen and recently started rolling out ad-targeting programs to woo TV money. It’s convinced that it has more to offer to TV than Facebook, and Facebook is just as convinced of the opposite. I doubt this tit-for-tat will be settled soon, but there’s a strong  case to be made that Twitter is actually in the better position, for now.

A Good Match

The key to understanding the value of a Twitter #TV product is to remember that the marriage was an organic one. TV had been on this long slide towards being a sort of ‘dumb pipe’ of its own. On-demand was (still is) on the rise and people are watching stuff out of order, in binges and much later than ‘live’. Twitter re-invigorated the concept of ‘event watching’ for everyday shows.

Twitter is in fact now a reason to watch television, because you know people will be discussing it both during the show and the next day

This kind of behavior ties in strongly with Twitter’s mission to be a ‘town hall’ of sorts. A digital water cooler for distributed workforces to gather around. Remote working, the real-time nature of Twitter and the trend towards time shifting are just a couple of the factors that have made Twitter+TV a bet both sides are willing to make.

A user presented with a codified place to view conversations around a particular show or series — right within the Twitter app they already have installed — might feel more willing to interact. This also fits in with Twitter’s struggle to get lurkers to become contributors. Part of the problem with Twitter, aside from its sometimes off-putting terminology, is that it’s hard to convince people that it’s ok to ‘say’ stuff there.

Replying and participating in hashtag conversations around a TV show seems like a really good gateway drug to get people hooked on the call and response of a Twitter conversation.

Out beyond that, it seems like Twitter might be the right company to do something about the quality of conversation when it comes to blog posts. We do get good and thoughtful comments on posts themselves, but I find that best conversation around my posts typically happens on Twitter. Whether that comes in the form of criticism, debate or reinforcement, it’s impossible to ignore the quality of Twitter discussion.

As Twitter expands its role as a place to have conversations, the comments vertical might be worth looking at, if it isn’t already.

Twitter’s re-invigorated TV pitch includes ways to get users to interact with shows and each other that could do something to offset skepticism of its success so far. Some additional intriguing signals include Twitter Amplify, a system for embedding clips in tweets in almost real-time and a ‘DVR’ function which could re-play tweets for those watching a show.

“That ability to track and monitor the moments within an event, either as they happen or to catch up with them, is something we want to enhance,” Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said at a recent Center for Technology Innovation panel. “We want to make that experience even better, curating the moments within the event, the media from it, and making it that much easier to navigate.”

Television and Twitter appear to be a strong match, but the whole second-screen social component of TV is in such an early state that it’s impossible to tell how this shakes down. Facebook and Twitter are about to start slugging it out in earnest over TV and it’s going to be fun to watch.

Image Credit: Andrew Booth / Flickr CC