Q&A: Twitter's Product Boss Answers Questions About Its Video Business

Kevin Weil Discusses Service's Addition of In-App Video Recording, Uploading

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Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

If last year marked Facebook's dive into video, this year might be Twitter's turn.

Twitter has featured video on its service for years, but never made it a central feature. Until last week, video on Twitter meant links to YouTube; six-second Vines cross-posted from Twitter's video-sharing app; and TV networks posting ad-supported clips as part of Twitter's Amplify program. Now Twitter has started to roll out the ability for anyone to record, edit and post videos to the social network without leaving its mobile apps.

This could mean a lot more video popping up on Twitter, just as video has overtaken Facebook. It could also mean a lot more opportunties for the publicly traded company to make money.

Last week Ad Age spoke with Kevin Weil, who previously oversaw Twitter's ad products and now runs its entire product organization as VP-product, about Twitter's video services. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kevin Weil
Kevin Weil

Why does Twitter need its own video product when you have Vine? We actually see them as very different use cases. One being very focused on deep editing and creating these amazing six-second videos. The other, Twitter, is focused on sharing what's happening with your right now. And both, by the way, post to Twitter. So for users on Twitter, they see all of it and have great real-time native consumption of video. But the creation is very different. The creation is actually where we've built a whole range of tools, not just Vine and consumer video but for professional video as well.

Unlike Vine, Twitter's video product started with TV networks when Amplify rolled out in 2013. It then came to advertisers with last summer's Promoted Video ads rollout and now has reached consumers with the in-app recording and uploading. Why that route?
Well we had a lot of demand. We saw all these great use cases for bringing real-time content to Twitter from professional publishers, from folks like the NBA. We've now got, I think, 130-plus partners through Amplify, over 50% of them outside the U.S. and over 50% of them not focused on sports. And it was great content to bring to Twitter. The kind of real-time, just-happening-now content that you couldn't get anywhere but Twitter.

From there, opening up video to marketers was an obvious next step. They use the same tools. They're also professional publishers in most cases. And we saw so much success, frankly, with those two products. Users loved them. Engagement rates on video ads are through the roof. People are sharing and retweeting professional and Amplify videos all over the place. It was just a clear next step for us to open it up to consumer video as well because people love watching video and retweeting video on Twitter.

And there's of course different scaling requirements, so that's something we've been working on for a little while to make sure that we can provide an instant playback experience for hundreds of millions of users, but also instant creation and upload experiences for those hundreds of millions of users.

So far you let brands run videos as promoted tweets, and then there's Amplify. But how else is Twitter going to be making money from video?
Those are two great ways. As always when we think about monetization, we are very thoughtful about the user experience, and our goal is to create great user experiences, whether it's organic content or advertising content. That's the tenet that we've held ourselves to the entire time as we've built out our ad platform. And it's why you see us average 3% or higher engagement rates across the platform. Video is even better, by the way. We see huge view numbers, huge engagement rates with promoted video on Twitter. In fact it's relatively common for us to see advertising videos that get retweeted so many times that their earned views are five to ten times their paid views. I think Amplify has been a great solution for us. It's enabled us to bring real-time professional amazing content to the platform with essentially — as we talk about ways to combine the platforms — with essentially a Vine as a pre-roll ad. So again I think we've combined the best of the advertising experience and the user experience where everybody wins.

You have YouTube stars who have done well for themselves on YouTube, but now they're looking for other places to post their videos, grow their audiences and make money. Facebook has covered the first two but not the third. What about Twitter? What's the potential for Twitter to set up a YouTube-like partner program where both sides make money from the videos the creators post to Twitter?
We very much want to make those users successful across Vine and across Twitter. And part of success is helping them make money, so they can continue creating the amazing content they create. One of the things that we've been doing is connecting them [with brands]. Our brand strategy team has connected our top brand partners with a lot of the Vine creators. That's turned into great campaigns on Twitter, but it's also turned into TV campaigns. HP's "Bend the Rules" campaign's TV commercial was a group of, I think, five Vines woven into a single 30-second spot. We're looking to help connect Vine stars to brands for monetization opportunities. I think there are going to be other opportunities for us to do great things on that front in the future.

When your team is connecting brands with the Vine creators, does Twitter make money from the work that the Vine creators do for the brands? I'm guessing a lot of brands will promote those campaigns as ads on Twitter, but is there any other revenue from it?
Nothing today. You're right; in many cases those turn into campaigns that run across Twitter, across TV. We make money from the ones that run on Twitter. But a lot of this is just us wanting to help these Vine stars and people creating amazing content on our platforms be successful. Today there's the team who's working with brands and connecting them with Vine stars, and tomorrow we think there are a bunch of other opportunities for us to help Vine stars and in general great creators across Twitter and Vine be successful.

What can you tell us about those other future opportunities?
You'll have to stay tuned.

You talked about Vine stars and referred a lot to Vine. But Twitter gives creators more flexibility when it comes to video length. Are there also going to be Twitter video stars?
Absolutely. Vine has been around for a couple years now. It just celebrated its second birthday and announced 350 billion loops since April. Vine has gotten massive, and over the past couple years, these Vine stars have organically developed and become celebrities on the Vine platform. We just launched our video offering three days ago. I don't think there are Twitter video stars yet. But I certainly hope and expect that they will develop because we did try to create some really interesting video-creation experiences in Twitter. That will let people do the kinds of creative and amazing things that help them stand out.

You mentioned Vine's second birthday. When YouTube was two years old, it added video ads to make money. When will Twitter start making money from Vine?
Our focus right now is for Vine to continue to grow and become an amazing platform used by millions and millions of people. I think there are clear monetization opportunities, but that's not our focus right now. If there's anything beyond helping the consumer product grow, it will be helping those creators make money because they're a critical piece of the platform for us. But our primary focus with Vine is continuing to grow.

A few years ago there was going to be a Twitter reality show. It ended up becoming "Summer Break" and aired its episodes primarily on YouTube, but before that happened, the idea was to air it on Twitter and Twitter was going to handle ad sales. Twitter hasn't had an original video series yet. Is that something you're interested in exploring?
We'd welcome anybody creating an original content series on top of Twitter. That would be fantastic. And I think we now have the video tools, especially for professional publishers where video can be up to 10 minutes, and the analytics to make that successful. So that would be awesome.

What about there being a Twitter studio producing original series in the same vein as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and soon YouTube? Would Twitter want to do its own originals?
We don't have anything to announce on that front.

This might only be specific to Amplify partners, but Twitter's Video Player terms say companies' can't sell ads or sponsorships for the videos they post natively to Twitter without permission from Twitter. How are you able to enforce that?
It's important for us to maintain a great user experience, and part of that is understanding what content goes on our platform. When it comes to enforcing this kind of thing, I would expect that it's us looking at the videos that are uploaded. If there's a partner serving ads, then we let them know they're not respecting our policies.

I'm asking because a lot of YouTube stars and networks are making money from creating videos for brands that they can post to their own YouTube channels and often without any requirement to give YouTube a cut of that money as they do with regular ad revenue. It seems like Twitter's policy be would a way to Twitter to get a cut of that money and could be an alternative to pre-roll ads, especially for Vine videos. Is that something you're exploring, getting a cut of the branded video revenue for videos posted natively to Twitter?
It's an interesting set of conversations to have. I wouldn't say that we've come down either way on that yet. We certainly think that Twitter's going to be a great distribution platform for folks who are creating branded videos.

The ability to embed video on other sites or apps seems important. It's worked out really well for YouTube, which can also append ads to and make money from those views. Yahoo has made that a key selling point when pitching YouTube creators on its video service. Facebook's looking to make its videos more easily embeddable. How are you thinking about embeddable video and specifically how to make money from those embeds?
You're totally right. That's one of the key strengths of video on Twitter. It doesn't just stay on Twitter. People take our content because it's public and embed it on websites around the world. Increasingly now with Fabric you see it in mobile apps as well. And from day one, you can take tweets with video and embed those videos around the web as well. As far as monetization, certainly there are opportunities. It's not a focus right now, especially given that this kind of video just launched a few days ago. We're focused on growing adoption of the consumer user base and building great video consumption experiences for the hundreds of millions of people who use Twitter every day.

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