Why getting married to the TV industry may not be the road to success Twitter is hoping for

Ever since Twitter filed the official documents for its initial public offering, there has been a spotlight on the company’s growth plans — and one big component of those plans revolves around being the “second screen” for TV shows, providing the kind of social experience (and ads) that networks are looking for. But what if shacking up with your television set isn’t the road to riches that Twitter and its investors are hoping for?

That’s the prospect that Travis Winkler of Hulu raised in a recent blog post, in which he argued that Twitter’s focus on a tight integration with the television industry limits the company’s potential valuation. Why? For the simple reason that the television world is in the process of being disrupted by a series of systemic forces, including time-shifting, downloading, streaming and fragmentation of the overall market. As he puts it:

“This type of TV consumption behavior eliminates Twitter’s value proposition to users and limits Twitter’s value to the networks. Very few, if any, viewers will engage in Twitter conversation about an episode they just watched that came out days, weeks, or months ago.”

Winkler is clearly riding a different horse in this particular race, since he is in charge of Hulu’s “TV Anywhere” program — but that doesn’t mean he isn’t right. We and others have been writing for the past several years about the rise of cord-cutting, particularly among the demographic groups that TV advertisers are most interested in, as well as the effect that streaming and downloading have been having on the single-screen experience. In effect, Twitter is trying to swim against this rising tide.

The company’s value proposition for television networks and content creators is that the social dialogue that occurs on Twitter while a show is being broadcast helps drive viewership levels higher, and it has repeatedly made that case to clients like NBC. But while that may work for special events like the Super Bowl or the Olympics, the number of TV shows that benefit from that phenomenon is arguably going to fall, not rise, as more people stream and time-shift and download.

That’s one big reason why Twitter’s focus — bordering on obsession — with TV may not turn out to be the recipe for riches that it believes it to be.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Shutterstock / TravisK