Comcast Corporation (CMCSA), Google Inc (GOOG): Will Twitter Become the Next Big Player in Online Media?

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Microblogging site Twitter, which currently has 200 million active users, recently surprised its social media peers by announcing that it was working with two major television networks to add streaming video content to its site.

Comcast CorporationAccording to Bloomberg, San Francisco-based Twitter is currently in negotiations with Viacom, Inc. (NASDAQ:VIAB) and Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA)’s NBCUniversal to forge content-sharing partnerships. Viacom is the parent company of Paramount Pictures, MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and other networks. NBCUniversal’s portfolio includes Universal Pictures, Bravo, USA, and E!, among others.

The evolution of Twitter

These partnerships would allow Twitter to stream videos from NBC and Viacom, Inc. (NASDAQ:VIAB), and split the advertising revenue with the two media networks. Unnamed sources close to the deal told Bloomberg that a deal could be reached by mid-May.

According to a report on social media usage from Nielsen Holdings last June, a third of active Twitter users regularly tweeted about shows they watched on television – a 26% rise from the beginning of 2012. Those results were generated from a special partnership between Twitter and Nielsen to track the frequency of social media discussions regarding television programs.

Twitter also hired former News Corp (NASDAQ:NWS) president Peter Chernin last year, bringing in a veteran of the media industry to help the board forge new relationships with content providers. It also partnered with NBC during the 2012 Summer Olympics to promote and track over 150 million tweets during the two-week long games. Two months ago, Twitter acquired Bluefin Labs, a startup that produces analytics software for social media comments regarding television shows and commercials.

These developments over the past two years point to an obvious shift in Twitter’s strategy. The company is no longer content with 140 character tweets – it wants to become a major player in the media industry.

Existing partnerships

Twitter already has existing partnerships with The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS)’s ESPN division, Time Warner Cable Inc (NYSE:TWC)’s Turner Broadcasting System and NBCUniversal’s Weather Channel.

ESPN, which accounts for nearly half of Disney’s media network segment’s revenue, is a particularly important partnership that highlights Twitter’s versatility. ESPN and Twitter initially co-created “GameFace,” which encouraged sports fans to tweet photographs of their “game faces” during live NBA games via the hashtag #GameFace. This simple idea was later expanded to NFL and MLB games.

ESPN also recently started featuring 15-second instant replays of sporting events on Twitter moments after they happen, playing on Twitter’s strength of being able to deliver news nearly instantaneously. This allows sports fans to watch highlights on Twitter via a smartphone or tablet, without being near a television. Twitter’s partnership with Turner Broadcasting also allows it to offer similar services to college sporting events.

What does this mean for other major media companies?

Although Twitter’s current and future partnerships won’t immediately make it a threat to YouTube, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) would be wise to keep an eye on Twitter’s unfolding strategy. Twitter does not support its own video uploads. Rather, users use third party services – such as YouTube, Vimeo or Telly – to share videos on the site. This is a smart tactic, since hosting videos requires massive bandwidth, which comes at a high price.

Since Twitter is so intent on sharing streaming video to its site, then it stands to reason that Twitter’s search function will soon include options for separate photo or video searches. When that happens, Twitter’s video search service could easily comb through millions of user uploaded videos that can be embedded and displayed within the site, undermining the importance of the original sites hosting the videos.

Therefore, Twitter could become a unifying front for user-submitted videos, combining all of its embedded videos with a single video meta-search engine – akin to Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) Bing’s own video search functions.

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