As Operation Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the world tuned in to the action on CNN – they turned the channel on and left it on until the war was won.
It was the fledgling 24-hour news network’s big moment – no one was yet convinced that all-day, non-stop news was a thing we needed – and CNN really ran with the ball. For the next two decades, CNN was the go-to place anytime something big was going down around the world. Wars, natural disasters, the death of a celebrity, highlights from big sporting events, political elections, nationally followed murder trials and more. It became almost instinctual – something’s happening, you turn on CNN.
Twitter’s filled that role now, fairly completely. It’s faster than CNN plus it encompasses CNN journalists (as well as those of every other network around the world). It’s unedited but eventually gets things right. It’s going to have pictures and video first, plus eyewitness accounts that TV producers simply can’t unearth in time. Unlike CNN, Twitter also delivers instant reactions from our friends, from news professionals, from celebrities, from our favorite smartasses and, not to be outdone, from ourselves.
You name the event – Boston bombing, GOP debate, Olympic ceremonies, Grammys and Oscars, Super Bowl, starlet meltdown, high speed chase, a big athlete gets traded, a storm hits, a season finale shocks us, etc. Twitter is where we all go for the event. The surge in messaging happens and so does an uptick in engagement. The Twitter stream literally comes alive in real-time in a way that CNN’s screen never could. We may have the TV on in the background, but we’re all on our tablets and phones, scrolling Twitter, when the big thing happens.
It’s up to Twitter to really get out there and make this case to advertisers. They own the big events and should be commanding the lion’s share of ads during them, not ceding that ground to the networks just because that’s traditionally what’s happened.
Some of these events are planned well ahead of time (awards shows) and some are spontaneous (terror attacks, earthquakes). Media buyers need to keep this in mind and Twitter’s salespeople need to get this across without over-promising that every week will bring some kind of major moment like Sully landing a plane in the Hudson River or Rupert Murdoch taking a pie in the face. The spontaneous events that send us reaching for our Twitter streams cannot be foreseen – but surely Twitter’s dominance of them now can be foreseen and it has to be worth a ton of money.
As for CNN, I’m not sure how they can ever get their ownership of these moments back. Having anchors reading Twitter into the camera on a 15 minute delay probably isn’t going to do the trick.