Twitter May Open Live Video API: Will It Matter?


According to a report from The Information, Twitter is about to open its live-streaming API up to media companies in a bid to take on Facebook and YouTube.

The Information, which cited two unnamed sources for the information, notes that this will allow media companies to openly broadcast to Twitter. Currently, only top-tier sports hubs such as the NFL, NBA and Showtime Boxing have tapped into the Twitter live-streaming API. Other entities use Twitter’s dedicated streaming service, Periscope; an open API would make it easier for them to broadcast directly on Twitter.

This comes as YouTube is reportedly lowering its threshold for streaming live videos to the platform. One YouTuber with 2,700 subscribers recently found they had the ability to ‘go live’ in the YouTube mobile app. The official threshold for subscribers is 10,000 before you can broadcast live on YouTube, so it seems YouTube is relaxing its restrictions.


Both of those efforts come on the heels of Facebook launching an Apple TV app dedicated to video. The Apple TV app streams any video in your timeline (live or otherwise). Facebook also lets anyone on the platform live-stream, and this is where some media brands anchor their broadcasts.

Although considered more social layers than polished media hubs, Snapchat and Instagram also have live-streaming capabilities, meaning that just about every major social media or news app on a user’s phone has live-streaming services. Even so, Twitter’s play still may not work as intended.

In a recent survey, UBS Evidence Lab found that Facebook, though considered a bit late to live-streaming, dominates with 17 percent of people reporting they viewed live video on the platform. It’s followed closely by YouTube with 16 percent live video viewership. After that, there’s a drop-off; Snapchat’s Live Stories feature claims 12 percent of viewership, while Twitter and Periscope claim 9 percent each.

In theory, opening up its API to media companies will give Twitter a greater market share in these sorts of polls. The side-effect is that it fragments Twitter’s own market. It seems that the company now wants individuals to stream on Periscope while brands stream directly on Twitter.

But what happens when individuals become stars? In the lead-up to Twitter killing Vine, which allowed people to broadcast very short videos, that was a hot-button topic. Typically called ‘creators,’ those internet-famous individuals were in high demand across the platforms discussed here. While they didn’t necessarily create live content, that seems to be what’s next for ‘video’ as a category. In UBS’s report, 42 percent of Millennials say they’ve created live content. If someone found Periscope fame, would it translate to Twitter proper? No other service even poses the question.

Live video is a growing platform, too. While only 36 percent of total respondents in UBS’s poll said they had tuned into live streams, a whopping 63 percent of Millennials reported checking out at least one live broadcast in the last half of 2016. Just as interesting is how viewership is trending: Save for Facebook, all other live-streaming services saw declines from June to November of last year.

“Facebook’s investments in live video are paying off,” said eMarketer senior analyst Paul Verna. “The data points to a fluid market in which Facebook is emerging as the leader.” As he notes, YouTube still has a lot going for it, but is typically considered a video repository, not a live-streaming powerhouse.

Twitter has to make a move when it comes to live-streaming. It already wasted any trust it had with developers, which it once proclaimed as one of five tent-poles for its business. Live broadcasts show value elsewhere, and there’s good reason to think Twitter is abandoning the idea of creators making platforms altogether. In 2016, it re-branded itself as a news app, and a 2015 study said only four percent of Vine videos were branded. While Vine launched the careers of some creators, they didn’t save the platform from the chopping block.

Periscope may not have gotten the message, though. It’s been making strides toward more professional-level broadcasting via its ‘Producer‘ program, as well as a VIP service for top broadcasters.

As Twitter now says live video is where it will focus energy, there’s good reason to think it will fail here, as well. User growth has stagnated, and long-form video doesn’t fit Twitter’s 140-character quick-hit format. It’s a snake eating its tail; if the (relatively) small number of users on the platform don’t respond well to live video, why would a brand want to spend time or energy on Twitter?

More to the point, those same users are already on Facebook, and YouTube has more viewers who are primed for video. Twitter might break news, but Facebook circulates it wider. When it comes to media companies broadcasting, that return on investment will prove far more critical.