Peter Kafka

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Twitter Gets Its Strongest TV Tie-Up So Far, With an Ambitious Comcast Deal

wall of tvTwitter has been trying to buddy up with the TV industry for the past few years. Now it has its biggest payoff yet: A far-reaching deal with Comcast that aims to turn the social network into a TV-watching service.

The gist: Later this fall, Twitter users will start to see a “See It” button on messages about some of Comcast-owned NBCUniversal’s shows, like “The Voice.” Clicking on those Tweets will open up a Twitter “card” with more information about the shows, and Twitter users who are also Comcast pay-TV subscribers will be able to record or watch the show directly from their computer or mobile device.

Even shorter gist: Twitter, which has been telling the TV business that it can deliver eyeballs to their programming, will now have a chance to prove it, by literally connecting its users with TV shows.

“We want to make the conversation on Twitter lead to consumption,” said Sam Schwartz, Comcast’s chief business development officer. Comcast is the biggest pay-TV provider in the U.S., with more than 24 million subscribers.

The two companies are formally describing the deal as part of a “strategic partnership,” but Schwartz said that the idea originated at Comcast, and that the company hopes to involve other pay-TV providers, other TV networks, and eventually other Web properties in the project.

That is, one day a Time Warner Cable subscriber visiting Entertainment Weekly’s website might see a See It button on a story about CBS’ “The Good Wife,” and be able to click on it to watch that show, too.

For now, though, the deal will start with Twitter. What about Facebook, which is also making a point of reaching out to the TV business? “For now, Twitter is our social partner,” said Schwartz. The deal also includes an “Amplify” advertising deal with Twitter, where Twitter and NBCUniversal will both sell ads against short video clips from the programmers’ shows.

You should start seeing the See It button in November, though Comcast cautions that the program will roll out incrementally. The initial version sounds like it will be clunky, because it will require Twitter users to link to official NBCUniversal Web pages in order to generate the See It button.

But Schwartz said the two companies should be able to get the button to appear using hashtags fairly shortly, and may even have that ability ready for next month’s launch. Eventually, Twitter may be able to generate the buttons without any formal cues from users at all — a tweet that reads “Can’t believe how good Peyton is tonight” may automatically call up a link to NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”

Here’s a mock-up of what a See It card for NBC’s “The Blacklist” would look like on your phone:

theblacklist-comcast-twitter

And here’s a mock-up of what a Comcast pay-TV subscriber would see if they clicked on a See It button for NBC’s “The Voice.” Note the option to record the show or watch it live:

xfinity-thevoice-comcast-twitter

If all of this works as advertised, it’s a big deal for Twitter. And if Twitter’s TV pitch works as advertised, it can be important for the TV business, too, since Twitter has been arguing that it can help programmers keep eyeballs on their shows and deliver new ones, as well.

Twitter has been making that pitch for a while, and is starting to find some statistical evidence to make its case. But if See It really does deliver, it will give programmers their first chance to track the flow of viewers directly from Twitter to their shows.

The flip side: It’s possible that Twitter’s TV pitch has been overstated, and that the network’s user base simply isn’t big enough to affect TV ratings after all. Twitter’s recent IPO filing disclosed that the company has about 50 million active users in the U.S., and while “second screen” activity about TV shows may seem normal to people who read websites like this, it may well be a niche thing.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik