Nathan Hubbard, Ex-Ticketmaster CEO, On Bringing Commerce To Twitter: ‘The Music Industry Should Be Tremendously Excited' (Q&A)

In a move that could have huge implications for the music industry, former Ticketmaster CEO and president Nathan Hubbard was named as Twitter’s first head of commerce on Aug. 27, a move that heralds a broadening for the social networking behemoth from a strictly advertising-based revenue model toward a transaction-based platform. Hubbard got his start in the direct-to-fan pioneer Music Today before moving to Live Nation and then Ticketmaster following the merger of the two, and has been on the forefront of mobile/digital marketing and sales since its infancy. Billboard spoke with Hubbard on the eve of his first day on the job at Twitter.|


Billboard.Biz: Talk to me a bit about the scope of what you’ll be doing and what your vision is for Twitter commerce.
Nathan Hubbard: I am incredibly passionate about the energy of the live moment, and that live moment in the digital space lives on Twitter. For the better part of 10 years, I’ve spent my career monetizing that passion in the moment, and I am a strong believer in serendipitous and situational commerce. At Ticketmaster we took 10 million people who wanted 10,000 pieces of unique inventory all at the same time at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning, [and] some of those moments happened, obviously, on Twitter. So the notion is to figure out if we can connect that and go beyond the current tools that we provide to brands and advertisers to connect with consumers and actually bring transactions into the platform to give advertisers an amazing ROI. That’s the foundational assumption I have coming in. 

One of the calling cards of Twitter’s approach to its business has been to partner with content owners. So it does a deal with ESPN, it does a deal with brands, to help them take their content and get broader distribution and awareness. To me that’s what Twitter is -- one of the great distribution and awareness platforms in the world. Our approach to commerce will parallel our approach to content, which is to say we’re going to be partners to the owners, producers and merchants of digital and physical goods, and use our distribution and awareness platform to help them sell more.

Live Nation Confirms Nathan Hubbard Is Out at Ticketmaster in SEC Filing

So this is not just music, this is across whatever goods and services one could imagine.
That’s right. Just like Twitter is a platform for discussion of everything, from a commerce perspective, we’re going to be a platform for the sale of whatever is a part of the conversation on Twitter.

What should labels, promoters, venues and others in the music industry know about you being in this position at Twitter?
They should know they have one of the strongest advocates for the business. I bring an intimate familiarity of what they need and what their business is, that background, history and knowledge to Twitter, where so much of the conversation is driven by artists and live events. That will manifest itself in great products to help the business grow. That’s our hope, certainly, coming in.

Nathan Hubbard's Twitter page

Give me a scenario where Twitter can help sell a ticket, sell an album, sell content. Maybe the label tweets something and there’s a link?
You nailed it. Take a look at the Twitter card product, which is basically a way to bring more content into the tweet. An artist could tweet about a new album and, today, with the Twitter card product, you make a couple of clicks to get through and buy that. You can foresee a world where using that Twitter card product we’re able to bring the ‘buy’ button right into the tweet to eliminate the number of clicks that an interested buyer would have to go through, improve conversion, and, ultimately, bring more buyers to the table for the artist, the label, etc.

What types of people will you be meeting with and having dialogue with in the coming months about the possibilities here?
[Laughs] We’re going to be sitting down with all the parties in the commerce chain, from those merchants that are selling goods that are part of the conversation on Twitter today, to larger retailers both online and offline, to interesting small startups that are using the platform today in potentially commerce-driven ways.

That’s a pretty broad scope.
It is, and I think, historically, Twitter has had a number of interesting pilot programs around commerce. The AmEx Sync program was an interesting way to combine online and offline activity into one, and to create offers that were generated by the conversation. What I spoke about when I was at Ticketmaster as CEO, I would pound [Twitter revenue chief Adam Bain] and [CEO Dick Costolo] about having no internal champion for the commerce initiative. That was for good reason, of course, because Twitter has been laser focused on building up an advertising business that is obviously is doing great things right now. But for Twitter, they understood that now is the moment to not shift focus in any way, but to expand focus to see what else we can do with this amazing, growing platform around commerce.

Really, the news yesterday (Aug. 27) was about putting a stake in the ground that we’re now focused on it, and we believe in the power of situational and serendipitous commerce, and we’re going to start figuring out what works.

"We think the music industry should be tremendously excited about this, because music is a huge part of the dialogue happening on Twitter."
Nathan Hubbard

This year seems to be the year that social media, including Twitter, has clearly moved the needle on ticket sales in general. Is that encouraging to you as you move into your next phase?
We’re not getting into the ticketing business, but my experience in watching the impact of social on commerce, particularly passion-driven commerce, absolutely was a driver in my interest in this role, and I bring that with me into the role. It really forms the core set of beliefs that got me excited about joining Twitter, because I know from my previous life what’s possible. I know it’s not restricted to live events, that it’s something that extends to people’s passions and impulses in the moment, that there is fantastic commerce opportunity in those moments of passion. So were going to extend that to whatever people are talking about on Twitter in the moment.

I’m not even talking about tickets, per se, I’m talking about targeted awareness, and the people who want to become aware of whatever it is they’re interested in.
That’s exactly it. At Ticketmaster we were always looking for partners that could help us drive distribution and awareness, and Ticketmaster has 99% brand awareness and the unparalleled leader in the world at distribution of live event inventory, but we still believed that there were segments of customers that other people and partners could help us reach. Again, I look at Twitter as one of the great distribution and awareness platforms in the world, and that’s going to be our approach to the owners of physical and digital goods: “How can we help you sell more?”

In basic terms, how would the commerce revenue model work for Twitter?
Well, it’s too early for me to start calling our shot on that one. Obviously, to date Twitter’s revenue model is based around advertising; the shift to commerce would probably be more focused around the transactional model, but I can’t tell you that we’ve decided that yet. My first day is tomorrow, I’ve still got a lot of reading to do to get fully up the learning curve and start narrowing our focus and putting a few stakes in the ground on where we go from here. We’re going to test a lot of things, and that will ultimately determine the model.

Nathan Hubbard's 2013 Billboard Power 100 page

Knowing where your interests and passions lie, Twitter would seem the ultimate playground for you.
That’s certainly how I look at it. It was the team, it was the fact that it intersects quite acutely with everything I love and the way I spend my life, and the fact that this is the company, in my view, that is at the epicenter of the platforms and technologies that are changing our lives. 

From mobile to social to data, and beyond, this company is at the center of it. Not to mention, just from a values standpoint, I’ve long admired their advocacy for free speech. They look at it as a platform for spreading ideas, as well, so this is a special thing to be a part of.


Billboard Power 100: Nathan Hubbard

What have the past 24 hours been like for you?
My phone has melted into a puddle of plastic and metal [laughs]. The last 24 hours have been conversations like this and behind the scenes conversations internally with people already at Twitter who are passionate about commerce, have a tremendous set of ideas, and have been waiting for the signal that we’re going to focus on it.

Probably the most wonderful revelation of the last 24 hours has been how many people at Twitter have already done a tremendous amount of thinking around commerce, so much that there is already an embedded team and set of ideas for where we go from here. That’s the best possible thing you would want coming in.

Should the music industry be excited about this?
We think the music industry should be tremendously excited about this, because music is a huge part of the dialogue happening on Twitter. What it says is we now have a pretty firm commitment to help the music industry sell more goods.

Have your own Twitter followers increased in the last 24 hours?
Some of my heroes started following me in the last 24 hours. It has bumped up a bit. (ED: went from just 6,200 to 7,200)