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Disney Said To Be Considering An Offer To Acquire Twitter

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Twitter may be for sale. The 10-year-old social media site has been struggling to attract more users and grow its business. So the tech world has been abuzz with the names of potential bidders. The latest is Disney.

To talk more about what Disney or any other company would do with Twitter, we reached Farhad Manjoo. He's technology columnist for The New York Times.

Good morning.

FARHAD MANJOO: Hi, good to be here.

MONTAGNE: Twitter seems to be a part of a lot of people's media diet these days. By one estimate, 140 million people a day send or read tweets. I certainly do.

So why does it seem to be losing its appeal?

MANJOO: Yeah, I mean, they've had this problem for at least a year-and-a-half, maybe two years where their user growth has basically stalled. And, you know, a lot of people have floated many theories for it.

The one that seems most plausible is that so far, Twitter seems to attract kind of a core audience of people interested in the news, people interested in kind of connecting with celebrities. But it doesn't have any sort of mainstream - much mainstream appeal, sort of beyond a core group compared to things like Instagram or Snapchat or, of course, Facebook. Which have, you know, not stopped growing - are huge, and kind of attract more people for sort of wider uses than just, you know, following the news.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, like tweeting the debates or the Oscars. But, I mean, beyond that, you're saying other social media sites actually are more just friendly to regular stuff?

MANJOO: Yeah. I think one of the things you would notice when you're on Twitter is it's sort of consumed by a lot of debates about the news. There's a lot of fighting going on on Twitter.

For people who are kind of into that, if you're into politics, if you're into, like, jousting about current affairs, Twitter is really good for that. If you're not into that, if that actually, like, turns you off - which for a lot of people, that's the case, you know, it can be a very hostile and basically, like, unpleasant place. Even though I, you know, I use it all the time, but I think I'm not representative of a lot of people in the world.

MONTAGNE: OK. So why would Disney be interested in Twitter? I mean, what would it do with Twitter?

MANJOO: So there have been a number of kind of potential buyers. And I think Disney is one of the more surprising ones. First, because of what I mentioned, you know, Twitter is not a very happy place. And Disney is the happiest place on Earth. So there's this sort of inherent, like, brand mismatch between the two.

You could imagine plausible ideas that Disney might have for, you know, a network like Twitter. One of the things Twitter has tried to do lately is try to market itself as an accompaniment to live TV.

Meanwhile, Disney has had some problems with its TV offerings. There's sort of a long-term threat that people will stop watching TV and watching things like ESPN. You know, you can imagine that over time if people move towards social networks to kind of get their live sports, Twitter could be seen as some kind of hedge for Disney.

MONTAGNE: And what other companies might be interested in Twitter?

MANJOO: I mean, the one that people have talked about for a long time is Google. Makes a little bit of sense because Google has a lot of money. It can afford Twitter. And Google has been looking for a while and been trying to build social sites, social networking sites and hasn't really done a good job of them. Google competes with Facebook, so this - if Twitter could conceivably sort of be a way to compete with Facebook.

It's still unclear yet what anyone would really, like, make use of Twitter. A lot of people have tried a lot of kind of potential futures for Twitter. And so far nothing has worked out. So, you know, it's possible that some acquirer may do something big with it.

MONTAGNE: Does that suggest that Twitter's time has passed, that its place in social media is over?

MANJOO: No. I mean, I think what's interesting about Twitter is that even though it's not growing, you know, as a social network. More people aren't really flocking to join Twitter. It still remains this epicenter of all news in a way that Facebook really isn't, even though Facebook is multiple times the size.

I think what's interesting about it is that it has this huge cultural sway. It's sort of an influencer of a lot of basically everything that happens in current events. But despite that, it's sort of had trouble reaching beyond that group.

And so a lot of technologies are really important and successful and kind of change the world, but they may not be kind of astonishing business successes. And that could be the fate of Twitter, that it might not do a lot financially. It might not be a huge hit as a business. But it could have a lot of cultural importance.

MONTAGNE: Well, thanks very much for talking with us.

MANJOO: Thanks a lot, good to be here.

MONTAGNE: Farhad Manjoo is technology columnist for The New York Times. And I'll be tweeting this conversation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.