Interviews

Monetising video on Twitter: In conversation with Twitter MENA’s Benjamin Ampen

Benjamin Ampen, Managing Director, Twitter MENA.

Video on Twitter has emerged as a key revenue earner for the microblogging site in the region. Managing Director Benjamin Ampen of Twitter MENA explains how his team is monetising video content in collaboration with content publishers and advertisers.

At the 2017 annual shareholders meeting, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey debuted the live video tab in the company’s mobile app. According to Twitter’s Q1 2018 earnings report, video ads accounted for more than half of the $575m of advertising revenue it earned during the first quarter of this year.

Significantly, this year’s World Cup turned out to be more lucrative than the 2014 edition for the microblogging platform because, according to one analyst, “Twitter’s service is better, there is more content, video ads are worth more and the company is selling more ads outside of the US.”

From left: Abdulaziz Al Abdan and Hany Hathout hosted YallaGoal, Twitter’s live show during the World Cup and it reportedly garnered 400,000 viewers per episode.

To talk about the live video initiatives during the World Cup across MENA, one of the platform’s fastest growing regions in the world, we visit the Twitter MENA office in Dubai.

It’s bright and airy, with long tables in pine wood punctuated with informal seating areas that would look more apt in a new-age restaurant serving healthy organic food, if not for the young people working seriously on their laptops.

We are keenly aware that this office hosts the chosen platform of the ‘leader of the free world’, among others. For the broadcast industry, like with most other industries, Twitter is unequivocally the favoured go-to platform for news.

With a global map on the monitors indicating Twitter bursts from Santiago to Singapore and beyond, the young employees at the regional office probably never lose sight of the impact of the platform they are tasked to monitor… or the fact that they have been tasked to grow Twitter’s business across MENA.

“Saudi Arabia is the locomotive of our region from both the user and revenue perspectives,” opens Benjamin Ampen, who was promoted from Head of Revenue to Managing Director earlier this year. The Twitter MENA office was constituted in 2015.

“Saudi Arabia is the locomotive of our region from both the user and revenue perspectives” Benjamin Ampen, Managing Director, Twitter MENA

“In the six months building up to the World Cup, Saudi Arabia came second in the world in terms of World Cuprelated tweets,” he reveals. “That made us think about the potential for real-time collaboration and we worked with UKbased Goal.com, a great content publisher around football, and the idea of YallaGoal came about.”

The term ‘glocal’ is bandied about freely, but Twitter’s platform in the region epitomises the local-global consideration given that the platform’s key language in the region is Arabic, with more than 61% of tweets in the UAE, 90% of tweets in KSA and 81% of tweets in Egypt written in that language.

“YallaGoal was the first bi-weekly Arabic live show that we have done around a sporting event in the region,” says Ampen. “We had two hosts – one Egyptian and one Saudi national – both with a strong presence on Twitter, engaging audiences after matches, analysing players and so on. On average, we had 400,000 viewers per episode over the entire series that garnered in excess of 10 million video views.”

User engagement apart, the team ensured live video monetisation by having automobile manufacturer Nissan and real estate developer Emaar as commercial partners of the initiative.

Ampen explains: “Nissan’s Infiniti team worked with us at Twitter and with Goal.com to put in place a competition where viewers could register for a chance to get an Infiniti Q50. Viewers had to guess the outcome of the games, leading to great online conversations. Along with the giveaway we had custom segments such as ‘best play of the day’ that were sponsored. It was great to see such a successful collaboration between Goal. com, Twitter and Infiniti. The metrics of the campaign were 3.7m in-stream ad views with a 90% average completion rate.”

Similarly, with Emaar, a video-based campaign on Twitter had the famous Italian footballer Alessandro Del Piero urging viewers to tweet footballrelated videos. With the prize of an apartment, the campaign saw more than 63,000 people from 45 countries participate. Campaign metrics indicate a whopping 40m-plus impressions, 790,000 engagements and eight million video views.

“We want to work with local content publishers. It is all about bringing great content and measurement, and explaining to advertisers that video on Twitter works” Benjamin Ampen, Managing Director, Twitter MENA

The belief that video is one of the primary drivers of revenue for Twitter going forward was reinforced by #Shetweets, a recent all-woman event organised by Twitter’s MENA team. Research conducted by Hall & Partners for Twitter’s female users in the UAE, Egypt and KSA showed that nine out of 10 women users consume video content on Twitter and one in six both tweet and consume content while watching TV.

In the same 2017 shareholder meeting, Dorsey also went through product changes, one of which, Twitter Lite, is intrinsic to the microblogging site’s MENA country strategy. Twitter Lite is a data light version of the app that operates better in places with lower bandwidth. Ampen explains that Twitter Lite is “useful in countries outside the GCC that have bandwidth issues. Twitter has a huge following in these countries, and we want to make sure they have access to all our features without using too much data”.

On the focus on video, Ampen elaborates: “The use of video is on the rise everywhere in the region – not just MENA but globally. We are seeing our video revenues rise. So, for us when it comes to our video strategy, we need to make sure that our commercial partners are aware of all the solutions and the great results we see, along with case studies such as our initiatives with Infinity or Emaar. We want to work with local content publishers. It is all about bringing great content and measurement, and explaining to advertisers that video on Twitter works.”

As a case in point, Ampen refers to the live streaming at the Burj Al Khalifa in collaboration with Emaar on New Year’s Eve, which reportedly had 1.5m unique viewers from around the globe. With Twitter experiencing its highest surges of traffic coinciding with iconic events in real life or on television, Ampen’s team will be working towards making these events easier to follow. Individual pages – accessible via the Twitter app – will allow those interested to follow the events in real time, complete with video streaming and commentary from experts.

Having had a successful run with the World Cup and #HawanahZein during Ramadan, Ampen is looking at creating initiatives around the fashion weeks in Europe and the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in January 2019. One Twitter executive describes it as a “24/7 sports bar where you walk up and sit down and the players, coaches and commentators sit next to you, and you just have a conversation”.

With a full-fledged team, it is clear that Twitter’s MENA office is taking its growing audience in the region seriously. Indicating the modern working space behind him, Ampen says: “We have built a diverse team reflecting the region. Apart from marketing, research and communication teams, we have a team that works with agencies. We also have a content partnership team that liaises with publishers, broadcasters, radio and magazines working to bring their content on Twitter.”

Earlier this year, Twitter signed more than 30 content agreements with the likes of Disney and ESPN. Within the region, Ampen’s team has similar agreements with Rotana, CNBC, ON Sports, Al Aan and Dubai TV, among others. Referred to as In-Stream Video Sponsorship partners, broadcasters work with brands that play broadcasters’ video clips to targeted audiences as promoted tweets, in return for an advertisement prior to the video clip.

“The content publishers, including the broadcasters, are the primary drivers of content,” stresses Ampen. “Twitter partnership programmes such as In-Stream Video Sponsorships are created between the publisher and the brand. We complement the efforts of our media partners and help them expand their reach and create monetisation opportunities.”

Underscoring the reach of live broadcasts on Twitter, Ampen reveals that there were more than 1,300 in Q1 2018, and nearly 80% of them had a global audience. “This is significant for a broadcaster,” he says, refuting the notion that platforms such as Twitter are taking precious advertising dollars away from an already beleaguered broadcast industry.

Offering an insight into the peculiarities of modern-day entertainment consumption, Ampen explains: “One of the significant statistics from the #Shetweets event was that an estimated 86% of women tweet while watching TV. This interesting dynamic in terms of consumption is important for both broadcasters and advertisers. There are potential bridges to build here and extend the reach and impact of advertising. Broadcasters, in turn, can extend the life of their content.

“We work hand in hand with television. Research shows that advertisers who have placed their advertisements with TV as well as on Twitter see a better return on their advertising dollar. The point is definitely not about moving advertising budget from TV to Twitter, since people are using Twitter and TV at the same time.”

It was described as a landmark in broadcasting when in 2015 Brian Rolapp, Executive VP of Media for the NFL, awarded games to Twitter even though it wasn’t the highest bidder. He was quoted as saying: “We have data that says seven of 10 of our fans have a second screen open [while watching games]. Twitter isn’t the exclusive outlet for the content, but the exclusive experience it’s offering has found some quick traction.”

Closer to home, the news was a little rough for the Twitter team last month. The courts in Turkey banned Twitter-owned video-streaming platform Periscope from the country’s football league, on the grounds of curbing illegal distribution of content. While Ampen’s resolve to curb content piracy is categorical, it will be interesting to see if stakeholders in the sports sector in the region make an NFL-like move with their franchises.

While the Twitter team would not confirm if a similar deal is in the making in the region, video, both live and otherwise, will only grow as part of Twitter’s portfolio of products, as the platform exercises its natural advantages in creating the shortest distance between viewers and what interests them the most.