When Twitter opened up its #Music app to everyone on Thursday, it was the strongest sign yet that the social-networking giant is aiming to become a media machine that dominates popular entertainment channels.
There's no doubt that many of Twitter's vast user base already have a deep interest in music, but until now there's been no structured way for artists or fans to leverage that. With the public launch of the company's new discovery service, Twitter has seemingly taken the next step to becoming an indispensable destination both for people to find new music to listen to, and for artists to reach broad new audiences.
And as with so much of what it does these days, Twitter #Music, which ostensibly lets users find new music by seeing both what their friends and artists they enjoy are listening to, was obviously made to give advertisers new ways to target users.
"The game is media," said Corey Denis, the head of strategy and marketing at Toolshed, a digital marketing agency. "I think what they're trying to do is to create channels out of Twitter. The next one would be TV: What's everyone on set of 'Arrested Development' watching?"
And the goal of all that? To turn Twitter into a media platform where advertisers can target users through the specific kinds of content they're interested in, and consuming in real-time, and to do so by owning the various channels of media. If that turns out to be a successful strategy, it could pose a serious challenge to Facebook and the stranglehold it has established over how the general public shares media.
At the heart of Twitter #Music is a discovery engine. Users can see charts of the most popular songs on Twitter -- sampling or listening to them via iTunes, Rdio, and Spotify as they go -- as well as get a sense of the songs their Twitter friends are sharing. At the same time, users can see the songs their favorite artists are sharing, as well as the people they follow. All in all, the idea is to make it as easy as possible to find new music.
"I predict that very quickly Twitter #Music will come to rival YouTube/Vevo in its importance for new music discovery," Greg Sterling, the founder of Sterling Market Intelligence, tweeted today.
Is that true? It's impossible to tell at this point, of course. But several experts interviewed for this story consider Twitter's music app launch an important step in that direction -- and key to the company's desire to maximize its reach into the mainstream population, as well as the engagement of young people who have traditionally not spent much time on Twitter. And with all of that comes plenty of revenue potential via targeted advertising.
Being a vital player in the content discovery war means providing value to many different kinds of people, and doing so means having something to offer across a wide range of media. Twitter has already reached into user-created video with the launch of its stand-alone app, Vine, and it has for some time made it possible for users to access news articles, photographs, and certain kinds of video directly inside tweets.
Now the company has launched #Music, and a Bloomberg report has it that Twitter is in advanced discussions to provide users direct access to TV content from NBC and Viacom. And last night, BBC America announced -- via tweet -- that it has struck a deal with Twitter to create "in-tweet branded video synced to entertainment TV series." Although not entirely clear about what that means, Twitter spokesperson Jim Prosser tweeted that "The Doctor (Who) does Tweets now. Tweets are cool."
"I think what Twitter is really trying to do with #Music and Vine and what else is to come in the pipeline is to really become this cultural epicenter for all things digital," said Brian Solis, the principal analyst at the Altimeter Group. "As Twitter looks to increase advertising revenue, they need to increase the user base and engagement among that user base and really just look at a more mainstream type of user. The music service is one way to do that."
Solis thinks that the channel model could very well be what Twitter is trying to do, all in the name of generated a more integrated user experience, regardless of someone's personal interests. "I sometimes joke and call [Twitter] TNN, the Twitter News Network, looking at it almost as a little cable channel in its own right," Solis said. "You have tweets, movies, television, news, and Vines."
For years, Twitter critics have wondered how the company would make money, especially considering that it has taken hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital. With the development of its Twitter Cards and promoted tweets programs, and recent announcements that it will let marketers target ads at specific keywords in users' tweets, and many other moves, the company has shown that its platform has to be taken seriously by advertisers.
But Solis thinks that initiatives like #Music could expand that potential. Given that the app lets people not just discover new artists and songs, but also purchase music, he thinks that the service is "a blessing to labels," and could let Twitter charge substantial fees to promote new artists. The same could eventually apply to Hollywood studios.
Solis does wonder if users will have to be trained to use the stand-alone app, given that it's not -- as of yet -- integrated into the core Twitter experience. That could pose a challenge to the service's growth. But it's also easy to imagine that Twitter launched #Music -- and Vine, for that matter -- in order to get people using it right now, and might very well integrate one or both directly into Twitter later on.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
Will musicians benefit?
With all the focus on how #Music enables users' discovery, and how advertisers can leverage that, one is left to wonder whether the new service will also benefit the artists themselves.
As Denis sees it, it's very likely that those musicians who are on Twitter will. Those who have chosen to stay off the social network will likely not have their work featured in #Music.
But Denis thinks that the app offers a lifeline to musicians who have, until now, resisted getting on Twitter because it's too time-consuming to do what it takes to build a loyal audience there. "This relieves a common complaint," Denis said. "They've made it easier for artists to use Twitter, because now all they have to do is share what they're listening to. That's easy. [Twitter wants] more artists to sign up, and now it's easy."
That sentiment is shared by some in the music management business.
"I think it's a fantastic opportunity for the artists who embrace Twitter #Music," said Rachel Masters, the co-founder of Red Magnet Media, a social marketing agency with clients like Duran Duran and Linkin Park. "They can really use it to embrace their own destiny....Part of the problem is that there's so much noise out there, [and] this is a way for an artist who really focuses on it to catch a signal, and be able to stand out and break out from the crowd."