NATPE: Are The Twitter Upfronts Coming?

Twitter expects that its Twitter TV ratings, which it releases each day in partnership with Nielsen, will impact this spring’s advertising upfronts, said Jean-Philippe Maheu, Twitter’s managing director of global brand and agency strategy, at NATPE 2014’s opening keynote in Miami.

According to Maheu, Twitter surveyed 12,000 people who both watch TV and Tweet about it, and found a 37% increase in advertising recall among those people.

“Brands really love the platform because they are really able to double down on psychographic profiles,” Maheu told moderator Lauren Zalaznick, former executive VP of NBCUniversal. “They can associate themselves with TV shows that they are already sponsoring.”

Brands also have used Twitter in creative ways. For example, during Sunday night’s Grammy Awards on CBS, Arby’s tweeted out: “Pharrell, can we have our hat back?” referring to the giant brown hat that the award-winning performer had donned for the evening. The tweet was retweeted 75,000 times for 3.5 million impressions, said Maheu.

Similarly, during last year’s Super Bowl, Oreos grabbed an opportunity during an in-game power outage to tweet out: “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” 

That tweet was retweeted thousands of times and written about later. The social media teams of other brands – Tide, Audi, Volkswagen and Motel  6 – also chimed in with quick tweets that made light of the situation and also snuck in a brand message.

“That connects you with your customers in a smart and funny way,” said Maheu.

While Twitter is certainly making the rounds to spread the message that it’s open for business when it comes to TV advertising, marketing and partnerships, Maheu says it’s also working strategically to make sure those messages mainly reach those who want to read them.

“I recently was in a meeting with senior executives from a creative agency and someone asked if we had advertising on Twitter,” said Maheu. “So far, we’ve been extremely sensitive to the user experience on Twitter. The amount of advertising that we deliver on the platform is limited.”

Beyond advertising and marketing, Twitter also is reaching out to Hollywood creatively, working with showrunners and casts to learn how to best use the platform to connect and engage audiences. 

After last year’s upfronts, all of the nets opened up the door to us and said ‘why don’t you work directly with our producers?’” said Fred Graver, Twitter’s head of TV.  “We did boot camps and started working with writers’ rooms, talent and showrunners to begin to engage with the audience around themes and content of their shows. The two best examples I have are both shows that have been around for a long time."

“CBS’ The Good Wife hands over its Twitter feed every Sunday night to the guy who wrote the episode, and he or she posts Vines, behind-the-scenes photos, and photos from set and talks to the audience,” said Graver. “One of the things we say to talent is all you need to do is post five or six Tweets during that hour. What fans really want is to be retweeted – it’s like the modern-day autograph.”

Last summer, Graver’s team at Twitter began working with the cast of NBCUniversal’s Law & Order: SVU.

“They had their best premiere in five years this season,” said Graver. “If you think scripted and live programming can’t both work on Twitter, they can.”

That said, live programming is one of Twitter’s raisons d’etre, with people taking to the online service during major events like the Golden Globes, Oscars and Super Bowl by the millions. That dynamic is pushing broadcast and cable networks to dig deeper to come up with new programming – such as NBC’s Sound of Music Live, which garnered nearly 20 million viewers – to promote hard and air live.

Twitter also has cleverly found a way to keep the momentum of live programming going, by sending out “ICYMI (in case you missed it) Tweets the next day that include trending video moments. For example, after people were buzzing about a 54-shot rally during the US Open Tennis Tournament last fall, Twitter sent out ICYMI tweets that included video of that rally.

“That offers us value outside the live window,” said Mike Park, senior manager of Twitter Amplify.

Still, Twitter wants to play a role in driving viewers to primetime while it’s on.

“How do we get people to show up a day at a time?” wondered Graver. “That’s the problem we are trying to solve with our TV partners. How do you help content find the right audience and how do you help the audience find content they want to watch? I think Twitter will become this guru that helps you find what you want to watch when you want to watch it.”

Twitter also is working with syndicators and TV stations to geo-target tweets to local markets, so if a viewer is watching and tweeting about Ellen, for example, in Cleveland, other viewers in that market can join the conversation.

“We want to help engage local audiences,” Graver said.

Finally, Twitter also is doing its part by working with charity and other organizations. According to Graver,  Bank of America and Bono’s charity, Red, are working on a campaign in which people will tweet over 24 hours that a one-minute video of a new U2 song, which was produced by Judd Apatow, is available. “Apatow and his band of comedians are going to do everything they can to bankrupt Bank of America,” said Graver.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.