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Why is Twitter betting big on live video?

Recode’s Senior Media Editor Peter Kafka explains on the latest Too Embarrassed to Ask.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Drew Angerer / Getty

Twitter is making a play to be more like a digital television, announcing new partnerships across sports, entertainment and news at an advertising event earlier this month.

(Disclosure: One of those partnerships is with Recode’s sister site The Verge, which, like this site, is owned by Vox Media.)

The notion is that live video is compelling, unique and drives engagement on newer platforms: “If I want to see that video, I have to open this app.” But on the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Recode’s Senior Media Editor — and Recode Media host — Peter Kafka said Twitter may have difficulty acquiring that sort of must-watch content.

“The big problem for Twitter, generally, is the stuff that’s most valuable, the stuff that people want to see, is on television,” Kafka said. “And television’s not going to give that up anytime soon. So you’re either going to pay a ton of money for it or create something new.”

He noted that despite the hype around live video as the next big thing, consumers don’t necessarily want the same things as advertisers and technologists.

“One of the great things about the internet is it’s asynchronous and it’s on-demand and I don’t have to watch it live,” Kafka said. “I don’t have to watch ‘Game of Thrones’ at 9:00 on Sunday, I can watch it at 9:30, or whenever I want to watch it.”

“The broadcasters love live; advertisers love live; people who are in the business of selling live love live; and there are a handful of times where we want to watch the same thing at the same time,” he added. “But almost never! I almost never want to watch something at the exact time it’s on. Just because it’s live, doesn’t make it compelling.”

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But, if we assume Twitter really is serious about live video: Can it succeed? Kafka said a previous effort, in which the site carried Thursday night NFL games, drew in about 250,000 viewers per game, less than two percent of what one of the big TV networks would get for the same game. However, he acknowledged that things could change

“I used to feel that podcasts could only be on-demand and there was no reason to have a daily news show,” Kafka said. “The New York Times has produced a really good daily news show, it’s got a huge audience. The medium can evolve, the way people consume the medium can evolve. But right now, it doesn’t look like they’re giving me much of a reason to look at any of this stuff.”

Rather than delivering WNBA games and a 24/7 Bloomberg news channel, he suggested, Twitter could emulate Netflix and spend a lot of money to create something new.

“When Netflix got into original content, they spent $100 million to make an HBO show,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re doing this for real. We’re making a thing that is as good a thing as you can see anywhere else.’ And that’s not what Twitter is doing.”

Have questions about Twitter video or other live video platforms that we didn’t get to in this episode? Tweet them to @Recode with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed, or email them to

Be sure to follow @LaurenGoode, @KaraSwisher and @Recode to be alerted when we're looking for questions about a specific topic.

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