Twitter’s announcement that it has partnered with Comcast and NBCUniversal to introduce a new feature through which its users can interact with television shows isn’t actually about TV. It’s about changing the way users interact with tweets.
You can’t do much with the information attached to a tweet. You can read a news snippet. You can watch a video. You can view a photo. If you want to do anything else you have to visit another website or application, making many tweets an invitation to leave Twitter behind and focus your attention elsewhere.
Today’s announcement changes that. Soon you’ll be able to view, record, or rent television shows directly from the company’s mobile applications. You’ll also be able to purchase movie tickets via Fandango or set a reminder that will notify you when your favorite (NBCUniversal) show is on. Twitter will become a place where you can do something in addition to being the place you go to find and discuss things that have already happened.
Twitter has historically struggled with attracting and retaining users, largely because it’s unclear what exactly the service is meant to do. The company has been trying to provide an answer to that question by encouraging conversations among its users, introducing new products like #Music and Vine, and becoming a service with which people can interact in new, easily-understood ways.
Gartner analyst Brian Blau says that introducing new ways to interact with Twitter’s service — such as the feature announced today — might help the company retain its users. “One of the characteristics of [large ecosystems like Apple or Facebook's] is the ability to engage with some kind of transaction with the user,” Blau says. “That establishes a very trusting relationship with users and allows companies to take on a different perception in consumers’ minds.”
Twitter isn’t yet processing credit card information, which Blau says is another way to ensure that people keep coming back to a service, but today’s announcement might be a precursor to other actions being made available in tweets. If you can buy movie tickets through Fandango why can’t you book a restaurant reservation through OpenTable? Introducing actionable information to tweets is about far more than being able to use Twitter’s mobile apps as a remote control.
The new features are a natural extension of Twitter’s Cards, which allow users to effectively peek at an article, video, or photo shared to the service. Cards provide easy access to information; in turn, the new features will allow users to easily act upon the data displayed by those Cards.
Today’s announcement will probably be regarded as a win in Twitter’s fight to convince television networks that its service has become an integral aspect of the modern television experience. Having NBCUniversal sign on as an Amplify customer might also boost the company’s advertising revenues, which could justify the $1 billion Twitter is seeking in its public offering. In that respect, today is all about television.
In the long run, however, these new features will likely be seen as a sign of Twitter’s attempt to make tweets actionable snippets of information instead of passive invitations to ditch the service and roam the wild, wild Web.