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Can Twitter Become A Big Enough Factor To Save Your Favorite TV Shows?

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In 2012, we saw an 800% jump in TV discussion on Twitter1, and by the end of the year, Nielsen and Twitter had partnered up to establish a new “Nielsen Twitter TV Rating” service. Nielsen had already purchased SocialGuide, a startup that used Twitter to track TV trends and incorporated the company into its own NM Incite service.

“Social TV is transforming the consumer viewing experience,” reads the Nielsen announcement, quoting SocialGuide findings,” “with more than 33% of Twitter users actively tweeting about TV-related content.”

That’s a rough average of more than 167 million people and a third of the more than half a billion “people” that used Twitter in 2012.2 Granted, by “people” we mean “accounts”, and everybody knows that there isn’t a one-to-one relationship between every Twitter account and a real human being. But that’s still a larger sample than the 48,000 households that Nielsen measures with their “peoplemeter”–a measurement that says nothing about how engaged TV viewers really are or what creates the interest in a show.

One inescapable aspect of social TV measurement is how imprecise it is. Any metric based on online engagement relies on an algorithm for rendering “softer” data (tweets, likes, shares, posts, etc.) into hard numbers. Nearly every business now relies on Google’s “secret sauce”, using Analytics and Page Rank as if they were truly hard numbers; despite many well-founded criticisms of how inaccurately Google’s algorithm measures a given page’s relevance and popularity.

Measuring engagement on social platforms ultimately relies on one company’s theory of what matters most. When an entire industry comes to rely on a single company’s numbers, as the television industry did with Nielsen for decades, essential information will always be ignored or lost.

Indeed, even within a certain aspect of measurement, such as social media engagement, there is a burning need for aggregate analysis. Advertisers and media channels have been depending on the charts produced by companies such as Trendrr, BlueFin Labs, and Networked Insights; all of whom go beyond Twitter to track engagement on multiple sites–including the big blue-and-white gorilla in the room (Facebook).

Facebook doesn’t have the trackable hashtag system going for it, but many analysts believe that it may out-tweet Twitter for Social TV3. The only problem is that Facebook data isn’t exactly public in the same way that Twitter is. Third-parties such as SocialGuide can harvest Twitter data, but aggregates can only tap into the surface of Facebook’s deep well of data. That’s the main reason that we have such a current focus on Twitter as a metric, and why the equation could change in a heartbeat if Facebook really decides to get into the Social TV game.

“We as a network have no idea exactly how many people are talking about our programs on Facebook,” said A&E Networks Senior Vice President for Digital Media, Evan Silverman recently to Forbes. “I’ve always thought Facebook has an amazing opportunity to provide anonymous, aggregated data to say X-number of people are talking about History or Pawn Stars. If they were able to provide that data, it would be a game-changer.”

And that’s well before one begins to consider the cumulative effect of the millions of mobile users who interact via TV-focused apps such as GetGlue, IntoNow, Tunerfish, and Miso–many of which offer value-added elements that go beyond commenting on TV and may be far more useful and inherently measurable than simple tweets. In fact, in a close comparison of the performance measurement between Twitter and GetGlue, Forbes discovered that the smaller-scale Social TV app was notably more effective4.

Interestingly, the Forbes article ends with ABC’s Ben Blatt forecasting a return to a traditional viewing model due to Social TV. “What this is doing is pushing more towards live viewing in a world that’s going video-on-demand,” Blatt says. “I think the concept of social engagement is going to entice them to watch on Sunday at 8 o’clock more regularly.”

On the other hand, one of the real virtues of Social TV is the ability to draw a larger picture of engagement: before, during, and after the scheduled air date–perhaps a step towards one of the biggest thorns in the side of TV networks and Nielsen alike, the time-shifting viewer.

As a historical monopoly, Nielsen may be predisposed to putting their eggs in one Twittering basket, but advertisers and television content producers will always want the big picture. So you may not want to dust off your PC and update your Twitter account just yet to save the ratings of your favorite TV show. The future of TV is social, but both producers and consumers understand that the conversation is happening in more than one place. Indeed, with the rise of app-powered Smart TVs, you may not need to dust off your PC at all.

Now that Twitter and Nielsen are in bed together, what does this mean for the television industry and TV viewers? Will we all need to tweet madly during our favorite shows to keep them on the air?

1 Read Rick Kissell’s entire article on twitter growth here.
2 Twitter passes 500m users. Full article via
3 View Michael Wolf’s full article on the Facebook status vs. Tweets for Social TV here
4 Full article on

About the Author

Emiah has always been intrigued by the cable TV industry. She is consistently questioning how certain shows become pop culture phenomenons while others unceremoniously fail. Emiah has a deep appreciation for Andy Cohen and The Real Housewives franchise.

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