Over the last few months, my mobile data usage has skyrocketed. My behavior has changed very little, but still the data meter continues to rise. I haven't figured out all of the reasons for this yet, but Twitter is definitely one of them. There's more multimedia content on Twitter than ever before, and it's eating up a big chunk of my monthly mobile data allotment.
I haven't seen any official numbers on Twitter bandwidth consumption trends, but by turning off the video autoplay feature and removing preview images in my own Twitter stream, I was able to decrease my data use considerably. I'm on track to use 0.2GB of mobile data with Twitter this month, compared to 0.95GB in the last billing period.
Twitter Inc. didn't always cause problems with data usage, but the company has significantly increased its focus on multimedia content – and video in particular -- in recent months. In a letter to shareholders this week, Twitter listed live-streaming video as one of its top five priorities for the year. As evidence of the company's investment, Twitter-owned Periscope is growing rapidly, with users creating more than 200 million broadcasts so far and watching more than 110 years of live video every day on iOS and Android mobile devices alone. Twitter has also partnered with the National Football League to stream live Thursday Night Football games this fall, as well as highlights and game analysis videos. And the company says it will expand its live video coverage in the future, adding more sports in addition to live news, politics and entertainment.
Video ads are another big push for Twitter. According to executives, many advertisers are upgrading from "Promoted Tweets" to higher-performing video ad units. Twitter is also selling video ads for its coverage of Thursday Night Football, and at least one Fortune 50 company has reportedly already committed to advertising in the NFL live stream.
The risk for Twitter is that it will oversaturate social media streams with too much video content and potentially alienate users like me who use Twitter as a newsfeed and for actual online conversations. I don't want to be bombarded by ads and other multimedia distractions.
The far bigger risk, however, is not to Twitter, but to mobile carriers. Twitter is relatively new to the video game, but it's helping to drive bandwidth demand through the roof. As North River Ventures analyst Francis McInerney pointed out recently, carriers need to upgrade their local backhaul capacity to support growing mobile traffic, and that's very expensive. While Twitter sees nothing but profit in expanding its video profile, carriers are facing major capital costs to support the company's new video business. (See Analysts More Than Bullish on Comcast MVNO.)
I don't know how successful Twitter's video strategy will be in the long term, but it's far from the only Internet company experimenting with new video models. Many big brands see over-the-top mobile video as a shiny new margin booster. And bandwidth demand is of limited concern...
Except of course to mobile operators.
And to consumers like me trying to hold down the monthly cellphone bill.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading