Twitter Drops Music App, Amps Up Media Ambitions

Positions social platform to leapfrog Pandora for mobile ad revenue

Like a new album, Twitter Music leaked early with a CNET report that the social platform had signed (acquired) music discovery service We Are Hunted. Then last week word began to spread from artists and Ryan Seacrest who snuck a prerelease listen, and this morning the album (site and app) dropped.

Available at and as an iPhone app, Twitter Music (or #music, as Twitter is referring to it) pulls preview tracks from iTunes and full songs from streaming services Spotify and Rdio, if users connect their accounts, and makes them available for listening in a super slick player that’s aimed as much at active discovery as passive listening.

“It’s a little bit of both,” said Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer. People can press play and let the app do the passive curation for them a la Pandora, but they can also skim through the app’s various tabs to take a more active discovery role, behavior the app’s design seems to encourage. “It’s certainly visual enough to be that. It’s a very visual product down to the spinning record on the bottom left of the screen [that plays and serves as the controls when listening to a song],” he said.

Users can browse among four sections, which can be thought of as variations on traditional music discovery avenues. Like visiting a Tower Records (RIP), the main page Popular displays what music is trending on Twitter right now; this morning that meant Demi Lovato and Psy of "Gangnam Style" fame. The Emerging tab is like the local record shop or Los Angeles’ ultra-hip-yet-underground Amoeba Music and steers toward up-and-coming talent that hasn’t yet crossed over or sold out. Suggested is like those mix tapes your friends used to pass around, surfacing artists you might like based on who you follow on Twitter. And finally #NowPlaying is the most modern and real time, echoing Spotify and Rdio by populating the music being tweeted out by people you follow on Twitter.

Twitter Music “proves Twitter’s worth in two areas that used to be contradictory,” said Schafer. “Twitter is most definitely a platform, albeit a platform that Twitter wants to take more control of by either striking down or taking away API access or acquiring developers like We Are Hunted. It also affirms them as a media company. Every move they make these days seems to be hurtling them toward that. This is a pretty killer app that really helps cement their value as that kind of business.”

Unlike traditional media companies who hop on almost any chance to make money, Twitter is keeping Music pretty basic for brands. A spokesperson said there are no plans to share at this time about running Promoted Tweets or audio ads in the app or on its site. That’s not surprising considering the recently launched Vine still lacks an ad product and is probably for the best for now since in order to listen to full tracks people have to connect Music with their Spotify and/or Rdio accounts. If they’re paying to listen to songs without ads through those services, they probably won’t be psyched to have ads forced upon them when banking on the same subscription through Music. Not that marketers should ignore Twitter Music.

Marketers should be looking at Music “with eyes wide open and thinking about how their existing successes in [the digital audio] space might translate,” said Schafer. “The lowest hanging fruit in terms of ad opportunities would likely be audio ads inserted between tracks, hopefully with a low frequency. That’s a way to capture the dwindling radio revenue out there.”

It could also be a way to boost mobile revenues, which eMarketer expects will account for 53 percent of Twitter’s projected $582.8 million in global ad revenue this year, and leapfrog Pandora to settle behind Facebook as the second-highest ad grossing mobile publisher. Twitter has an advantage on Pandora because, unlike the digital radio service, the company doesn’t have to strike licensing deals with the music industry by striking partnerships with Rdio and Spotify. “The notion is why negotiate with labels when you can work with people that already have,” Schafer said.

With Facebook rolling out a Music-only feed last month and YouTube, Vevo, Spotify, Rdio and now Twitter all setting themselves as music discovery services, the opportunity has expanded for brands to get in on the music act without paid media, typically as playlist curators. But not all brands. “It’s probably for more endemic brands,” said Schafer. Shoe brand Vans can participate because of its decades-long commitment to music through the Vans Warped Tour concert series, and so can Starbucks because it plays and sells coffeehouse-type music at its stores. “But for nonendemic brands to try to do that is a really big challenge, and I don’t think it sits at the top of their priority lists,” he said. “If the ad model works for them and fits nicely into music products, then that’s probably a safer bet.”

Publish date: April 18, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT