Social Media Buzz Can Skyrocket TV Ratings

Don't worry this is not about Charlie Sheen. At most, he has a supporting role.

There is a doctorate to be written about what the interest in his personal anarchy tells us about our society and the media. But in the meantime, there is the potential for analysis about the impact of social media on TV viewing.

The actor's Monday appearance on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" offers grist for researchers, who are increasingly intrigued by the topic. It also suggests the emerging set-top-box data can play a role in pursuing the cause and effect between Twitter and tune-in.

Sheen's appearance on CNN was the 11th hour. Yet once he began his screed, Web conversations lit up -- and so did the ratings. Some 45 minutes into the show, viewership in the 25-to-54 demo -- an age range likely to be viewing and tweeting at once -- was up 61%.

"Word of the interview quickly spread on social-networking Web sites, and by parsing the Nielsen ratings, that word-of-mouth effect becomes evident," The New York Times wrote.



"Incredible power of social media," tweeted show producer Jonathan Wald as Piers Morgan had record ratings. "No promotion whatsoever, just Twitter/Facebook, word of mouth," he wrote.

The New York Times and Wald may be on the right path, though it is just as likely channel-surfing relatives in the other room yelled "Turn on CNN!"

No media researcher would say they have found the Rosetta Stone, conclusions about how much social media is a driver for traditional media.

"At this point, maybe it is, maybe it is not," says MediaVest's Yaakov Kimelfeld, Ph.D. "It's not scientific."

Still, the emergence of second-by-second data culled from set-top-boxes offers a tool to drill deeper. Matching the granular ups and downs with activity on Twitter and Facebook -- both have time stamps for postings -- has potential as a guide.

In the Sheen case, that would involve real time, which may be easier to gauge. The broader matter of whether a promotion Monday gets people buzzing enough to boost a Thursday premiere is trickier. Researchers have always sought that and always will and may never know the linkage for sure. But the set-top data would seem to move the ball downfield.

We're told Twitter helped start revolutions and topple dictators in the Middle East. It's got to embolden people to check out a TV show, right?

1 comment about "Social Media Buzz Can Skyrocket TV Ratings".
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  1. Brian Cauley from media iq, March 2, 2011 at 5:05 p.m.

    Good article David. It's super-interesting to literally see the "water cooler" conversation come alive through Twitter and FB as viewers watch TV shows.

    We built an app called VIVA that displays TV programs with their performance data. Sec by sec rtgs data from set tops, and tweets and likes.

    It's a brave and cool new world.

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