Disney and Twitter?

Apparently, Disney is rumoured to be looking at buying Twitter. Some of the analysis is mixed on this idea. Many seem to think this is about Disney using Twitter as a distribution platform. But those making the claim are, from what I’ve seen, in no way qualified to make that statement, and don’t really know what they are talking about.

“Distribution” Isn’t A Single Thing

The problem with saying Twitter is a video distribution platform is that it assumes that what Twitter does is very similar to what something like Netflix does. To call that naive is being generous.

A Boeing 747-8 freighter has wheels and moves cargo. An EMD AC4400 has wheels and moves cargo. Therefore the two are interchangeable as a means to move cargo, right? Um, no, they aren’t. One is an airplane, the other pulls trains. Other than the superficial elements of “wheels” and “moves cargo”, they are completely different. Yes, both can carry cargo over land. But the train will have limited utility moving cargo across an ocean. An airplane isn’t a very efficient way of 10,000 tons (20,000,000 million pounds) of stuff.

Twitter has built a platform for pushing hundreds of millions of tiny, discrete pieces of information at many thousands of times per second. Disney may want a video distribution platform. That means pushing gigabytes of data over a long-standing connection a few million times per day, and being able to recover that data stream if/when the data connection is lost.

Twitter messages aren’t entirely order-dependent. You can deliver them almost in any order and still do the job. A video stream cannot have data arrive out of order. It doesn’t work otherwise. Sure, both need to make sure their data remains intact and unaltered. But how you do that for discrete messages is different that when you push large, continuous data streams.

Twitter messages aren’t time-sensitive. You can deliver them within minutes of their being sent and still do the job. A video stream has to have the data arrive continuously, and in a timely fashion, or the video freezes while you wait for more data. Do this often enough, and people stop using your service.

It Isn’t For Video

Unless Disney thinks it can built a business on Vine videos, Twitter isn’t all that useful as a means of getting video to consumers. In fact, it’s relatively useless at it. Twitter wasn’t built for high-speed, order-dependent data streaming. And it doesn’t need to be, because that isn’t Twitter’s job.

What Twitter does do is provide a platform for large numbers of people to communicate in small bits. And Disney already gets that with Twitter without having to own them. Disney also can also use Facebook and Google+ (okay, you can stop laughing now. Does anyone actually use it? My Google+ feed is basically all stuff about the Calgary Flames and not much else). Disney doesn’t have to own the platforms to engage with their customers.

That being said, Disney having a platform just for their community isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Creating a niche social network where Disney can try to control the environment and content (much like they do with their theme parks) could be useful for Disney. But buying Twitter brings along some baggage that a new platform wouldn’t have. I get the risks of starting a new platform. Disney Go wasn’t exactly a resounding success. But Twitter isn’t necessarily a win for Disney.

Twitter Fraught With Peril

Twitter comes with a couple of problems. First, it is one of the premier platforms for Internet trolls and lowlifes. You want to see the dark underside of the Internet? Look at the responses to celebrities saying occasionally innocuous stuff. To call it alarming is an understatement. That sort of crap tarnishes what is an otherwise decent platform for sharing small bits of information and reaching larger audiences. If owned by Disney, that stain could expand to tarnish Disney’s fairly clean brand image. Does Disney really want to be the platform for racists, terrorists, misogynists and trolls?

Second, Twitter doesn’t seem to have a viable business model. I could see why the higher-ups in Twitter would want to be sold (I’m not saying they are, I’m saying I could see why they might). With no obvious long-term revenue future, dependence on declining advertising revenue and stagnant growth, the trajectory for Twitter’s stock price is flat, and more likely downward. A sale is a chance for the founders and investors to get cash, or stock in a company that is stable and continues to see growth. For Disney, it would be a chance to acquire a business that is in a money-losing position. The last I checked, Disney isn’t a charity, and Twitter as a loss-leader to generate other revenue doesn’t appear likely to work.

While I don’t consider myself a representative sample, I’m personally seeing less and less utility in Twitter. I’ve had to cut down the number of people I follow to keep the backlog vaguely manageable. I find myself skipping hundreds and hundreds of tweets every day, and reading fewer and fewer of them. I’ve noticed that many of the people I follow are tweeting less often, with my feed is dominated by organizations that have dedicated social media staff and by people with a lot of time on their hands. Some celebrities that I follow that were active have largely gone silent, maybe tweeting once or twice a week.

Frankly, I could shut Twitter down for a week and probably not notice it. I already notice if I’m away from Facebook for more than a couple of days, and I only go on it once per day most of the time. Even LinkedIn is a regular spot for me to visit. But the difference is that I have communities of people there I want to keep up with. Twitter isn’t nearly as focused, at least not for me.

Probably Not A Good Idea

I get why someone like Salesforce would want Twitter. It would fit “better” into their business model, and they could leverage it to boost their own services. I understand why Google might be interested, given their abysmal track record in social media. But Disney doesn’t make sense to me.

Unless Disney has cash burning a hole in their pocket, and they have this compulsive need to “buy something”, Disney should probably stay away from Twitter. Twitter doesn’t have technology that really matters to Disney as far as I can see. The downsides of Twitter to the Disney brand don’t make up for what limited upside might exist. Twitter is a money-losing operation with no real plan to get to profitability, and Disney doesn’t change that outcome. I just don’t see a real benefit for Disney owning Twitter.