TV Showrunner Reveals Lessons From Investing in Twitter (Guest Column)

Twitter Illustration - P 2013
Illustration by: Skip Sterling

Twitter Illustration - P 2013

One of the high-flying site's first nine backers, producer Greg Yaitanes, explains how television will evolve to mimic social media during the next five years: "Twitter and TV eventually will be thought of as one and the same."

This story first appeared in the Nov. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

The 140-character backstory is pretty simple: In '06, @biz called me to invest in @twitter with the words, "We know there will be a connection to Hollywood, but we don't know what that is yet."

Understatement of that decade. This one, too.

I became one of nine original investors in Twitter, which, seven years later, went public Nov. 7 to much fanfare. I had supported all of Christopher "Biz" Stone's companies going back to Xanga, the pre-Myspace social network, and I've been an angel investor in Square, Pinterest, Snapchat and his upcoming project Jelly (the next big thing!). With Twitter, I would be available to give my impressions of the early user interface and offer advice in navigating its growing popularity among celebrities, some of whom were demanding a cut of Twitter simply for using Twitter -- seriously.

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My passion is the intersection of technology and media and how we consume stories now and in the near future. I've been an early adopter of tech, and I'm also an efficiency nut, often waiting for tech to catch up with my dreams of what possibly could streamline my job as a director and producer. For instance, the industry-standard PDF app, iAnnotate, is one of the side projects on which I consult.

While Biz and I saw the potential of Twitter and TV working together, others were not easily convinced.

Early emails between Biz and I discussed the ideas of characters tweeting in character, shows sending updates and tweets being integrated into storylines. After months of pushing, the first TV/Twitter test case became a short-lived series for Fox called Drive (@foxdrive) in April 2007. Drive starred @nathanfillion, and it was at his home during the premiere that Biz and I conducted the first-ever live-tweet for a series. History was made: Twitter and TV had been formally introduced to each other.

The more I watched Twitter grow, the clearer the similarities between the businesses became. Hollywood and Silicon Valley are brother and sister. The hurdles of a startup mirror the struggles of getting a TV show to pilot -- from the inception of an idea to getting funding to creating a beta, protecting the brand and remaining relevant.

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Watching Twitter do all this with remarkable grace and leadership inspires the work I do on Cinemax's Banshee, which is a story, not just a show. With the full support and creative partnership of Cinemax, we've created, from the inception of the series, multiplatform points of entry for the audience to discover the Banshee world. Biz and my brother Jason founded Tin Punch Media, the first Silicon Valley startup to create a main title sequence for a series. Not only do the Banshee titles tell a larger story throughout the season but also within our weekly changing imagery is a social component: a safe with a dial of numbers fans use Twitter to decipher and share ideas about the meaning. Our graphic novel and fully produced character backstories, Banshee: Origins on, take the story and series to new heights and bring fans into a world created solely for them. Twitter is instrumental in promoting that content and enabling fans to become brand ambassadors for our show. Banshee fans -- #fanshees, as they call themselves -- are a rabid bunch and are thirsty to know more, to learn the secrets, to delve into the mythology. Banshee is social in its DNA.

The next five years will be very exciting for tech and television. The line between shows we watch and the way we watch them (and where) will continue to evolve. In five years, a writer-producer won't be able to sell a show without a multiplatform plan to visualize the world you are going to create and how deep viewers can dive. There will be a shift from the current thinking of, "Let's wait and see how the show does," to the full embrace of all content as marketing and all marketing as storytelling. Fewer pilots will get made, and resources will be channeled to multiplatform elements.

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As a showrunner and producer, I see my role in this shift as a bridge, linking the social world to the creative world. We need to get people to stop thinking of social media as marketing and instead as a storytelling opportunity.

Startups, like TV shows, don't often know their potential until the public gets its hands on them. Where Twitter started and what it has become are quite different, just as television is evolving. These coming years will define the medium and will be seen as its greatest growth period. Twitter will become the second-screen experience, and #Twitter and #TV eventually will be thought of as one and the same.

Longtime TV producer Greg Yaitanes (@GregYaitanes) is the showrunner of Cinemax's Banshee, whose second season launches Jan. 10.