Twitter’s Top Content Exec Talks ‘Critical’ Media Partnerships, Why It Leaves Up Donald Trump’s Controversial Tweets

Matt Derella - Variety CES Entertainment Summit 2020
Variety/Isaac Brekken

LAS VEGAS — Content partnerships are essential to the growth and success of Twitter, and the company has accelerated its work to make the service safer and easier to use, according to Matt Derella, global VP of revenue and content partnerships.

Derella, in a wide-ranging headliner conversation at the Variety Entertainment Summit at CES here Wednesday, cited several new and renewed media deals that he sees driving more value for Twitter users, advertisers and content partners.

“Our content partnerships are critical to Twitter. They enrich conversations on Twitter — they make conversations better,” said Derella, who reiterated that the company’s strategy is to complement and not compete with media companies.

Derella also addressed the subject of why Twitter grants special exceptions to President Donald Trump — and other political figures — when they post tweets that would be banned for regular users. The exec was interviewed on stage by Andrew Wallenstein, Variety‘s co-editor-in-chief, who asked why some of Trump’s tweets including those directed at Iran (like his threats to attack cultural sites in the country) aren’t violations of Twitter policies forbidding violent speech.

Derella acknowledged that many “world leaders have made Twitter their go-to communication tool,” and he said that role for the platform “comes with a lot of responsibility.” He pointed to Twitter’s updated policy, announced in October, that draws “some red lines” around conduct for political leaders. But he said it’s not a violation when world leaders “engage in, call it, saber rattling.” In cases where such posts would violate regular Twitter rules, the company will put a “public interest interstitial” in front of a tweet to provide context.

“We think it’s important, when world leaders are communicating… that there’s a record of what they’ve said,” said Derella, who added that Twitter’s rules “will continue to evolve. “

Derella also talked about Twitter’s recent decision to ban political advertising. While Twitter is “a great place for candidates to engage with potential voters,” he said, the company wanted to ensure its ad-targeting tools can’t be used for campaigns to buy their way in front of prospective voters.

On the media partnerships front, Derella said the company is looking to exploit opportunities through new and expanded deals with the NFL, the NBA, and NBC Sports for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. He also cited exclusive deals to live-stream red carpet event coverage for both the 2020 Oscars and the Grammy Awards.

Twitter has been developing enhanced interactive features for its media partners, Derella said. For example, the Oscars pre-show streaming partnership with ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will let fans select their picks for who they think will win and direct-message those to the Academy (as well as share them on Twitter). “It’s bringing people into the broadcast,” Derella said. “It should drive tune-in” for ABC, he added, saying that such participatory elements can help content partners “break through the noise.”

Twitter and the NBA, together with WarnerMedia’s Turner Sports, on Wednesday announced a multiyear deal extension. Under the pact, for the second consecutive year, the NBA and Turner Sports will provide a complementary live-streaming option for the second halves of at least 20 NBA on TNT games, including the All-Star Game and at least 16 playoff games including the Western Conference Finals.

Like last season, the live game broadcasts (available via the @NBAonTNT Twitter handle) will comprise an isolated camera feed for a single player — selected by popular vote by fans from an @NBA poll. In addition, this season, the NBA and Twitter have launched a series of on-demand franchises and more live content, including player pregame warmups and, for the first time, Q&As for the playoffs and Finals.

“If you love LeBron James, you can follow just him in the second half the game,” Derella said.

Twitter also has continued a fast pace of developing features, Derella maintained. The company announced Wednesday at CES an “experiment” that will let users limit who is able to comment on their tweets around replies  to “limit who gets involved in the back-and-forth on Twitter,” he said. With the new feature, users can restrict replies to only people they follow and mention; just the people specifically cited in a tweet; or actually turn off the ability for anyone else to comment on a tweet altogether. The company previously introduced a feature to hide replies.

“Customers want more control over the conversation on Twitter,” Derella said. “It has the potential to allow for really more in-depth conversation.”

Twitter also recently added the ability for users to follow topics (like CES). And it has an ad unit called “Promoted Trend Spotlight,” which features a brand at the top of the Explore tab, that Twitter just launched globally. Disney Plus used the Promoted Trend Spotlight for the launch of the subscription-video service last fall, in a campaign that was a “grand slam,” Derella claimed.

Meanwhile, Wallenstein asked Derella whether CEO Jack Dorsey is spending enough time focusing on Twitter — given that he’s also CEO of payments company Square and is spending several months of the year living in Africa.

“To me the question is not about where Jack is… the question is, how is he managing the company?” Derella responded. “He is present, he is focused, he’s passionate about making the service better for all of our customers.”

Pictured above: Variety’s Andrew Wallenstein (left); Twitter’s Matt Derella