Place a value on this: viewers of MTV's "Video Music Awards" last Thursday posted three times more social media messages than a year earlier --19.2 million versus 5.6 million, according to Trendrr. But the show's actual viewers fell by half – from 12.4 million to 6.1 million, according to Nielsen.
National advertisers might scratch their heads over this one. It might make them more resolute in wanting to continue paying for traditional TV advertising the way they have done for many decades -- with Nielsen-based viewer currency.
Still, something is going on here. Sure, you can blame the "VMAs" being up against President Barack Obama's big acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on a Thursday night. The “VMAs,” MTV's highest-rated show of the year, usually runs on Sunday nights against a bunch of summer reruns.
Proponents of social media will tell you that good high-level chatter means engaged viewers, which is good for advertisers. Naturally, MTV's young audience is fertile ground for offering this kind of mind-bending metric formula.
Broadcast programming Thursday night offered another interesting wrinkle: Though Fox's "Glee" and CBS’ "Big Bang Theory" have been heavily in repeat land, they were the second and third biggest shows (52,700 and 41,600 respectively) in number of social messages, according to Trendrr.
Older TV viewers were doing some social interaction as well on one of the biggest nights for those with a yen for political content, with from 21,000 to 37,000 social messages related to various DNC network coverage. Nielsen viewership? From 1.5 million to around 7 million, depending on network.
Question is: Does all this make these any of these shows less valuable? No one has a clear picture yet. Maybe these rerun or political-happy social media users are heavy buyers of cars, washing machines, financial services, iPads or pricy pharmaceuticals.
Much has been made of social media helping TV maintain -- or even improve in some cases – viewer interest in traditional TV shows. But not everything works according to preconceived formulas. The "VMAs" was probably only one example.
Strong social media proponents might tell you it isn't really about the intersection between the new and old metrics, but that the newer social media research tells you a lot more about what a particular piece of TV content really means to viewers: that this kind of information is of premium value, or should get some kind of award.