Something big happened this month in the colliding worlds of television and social media. Nielsen, the current authority on television ratings, published a study linking TV ratings with social media chatter,
which has implications for social media, television networks and major brands.
Television has traditionally been a passive medium -– viewers sit on their couches and simply watch their TV screens. In recent years, however, social networks have seen an increase in the amount of social chatter happening during prime-time television.
This so-called “social TV” phenomenon is fueled by the widespread use of phones and tablets.
Television viewers are no longer just watching TV passively -- they are connecting to other viewers and discussing their favorite shows using their second-screen devices.
Since early 2010, marketers at major networks have started to notice this increase in social chatter and have realized that it is important to encourage more of it. Not only does this chatter increase brand exposure, but it also creates a “word of mouth” phenomenon wherein viewers, rather than networks, encourage people to tune in.
But just how much of an impact does all of this buzz actually have on overall ratings? While the answer is still unclear, many network executives and data analysis firms are starting to uncover why there may be a connection.
Back in December 2010, Lisa Hsia, senior vice president of digital media at Bravo, wrote an article on Mashable which discussedthe “new digital water cooler” and its positive impact on Bravo’s TV ratings. Hsia claimed that Bravo saw a whopping 10% lift in ratings due to the increase in social media chatter. While she makes sure to mention that the results came from one study and that more work still needs to be done, she is confident that the results indicate a significant correlation between ratings and social media buzz.
In July of this year, GetGlue shared further research analyzing the connection between social check-ins and television ratings. The GetGlue study reached a similar conclusion -– social buzz and TV ratings are related. Interestingly, GetGlue found that there was no single formula for determining the correlation. Instead, the relationship between ratings and social media buzz was different for each type of content.
For instance, the impact of
social buzz on dramas is smaller than the impact of social buzz on reality shows. This variation makes sense, as viewers are much more likely to chat during the fast-paced, surprise-filled
Jersey Shorethan during the more subdued The Good Wife.
Also in July, Advertising Agepublished an article about NBC’s hit show "The Voice." The article was based on data from Bluefin Labs, an MIT Media Lab-spinoff focused on social analytics around television. While it is no secret that "The Voice" was a huge hit for NBC, the article revealed that the show generated the highest level of social-media engagement for any show that aired in the spring of 2011, beating favorites like "Glee" and "Dancing With the Stars."
Then, in August, NYC-based social TV analytics company Trendrr.tv, shared its data about the "MTV Video Music Awards." This article on Mashable reported that the 2011 "VMA"broke social media engagement records for both MTV and Twitter. At 10:35 pm, when Beyonce revealed that she was pregnant, Twitter experienced nearly 9,000 tweets per second in relation to the news.
While the evidence of the connection between social buzz and ratings continues to pile up, TV networks have already started to take action. Today, every major television network, large and small, cable and broadcast, is participating in social TV. ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, NBC, USA, TNT, Bravo, Discovery, HBO, Showtime and others are tapping into social media, encouraging and rewarding fans for informing friends about what they are watching and sharing their thoughts on the individual shows.
Still, the study that Nielsen published this month is a significant milestone for social TV.
With Nielsen on the record saying that social buzz is connected to TV ratings, two important things happen. First is a huge validation for the significance and influence of social media. Second is the realization that social activity can begin to be monetized. Since ratings already correspond to dollars and social buzz affects ratings, television networks can now begin to develop strategies for monetizing social activity.
What is next for social TV? To start, the relationship between buzz and ratings will become clearer. Then, networks and advertisers will start to agree on how to measure and value social buzz. Finally, much like Nielsen’s rating system for TV episodes, there will likely be a complimentary score measuring social buzz.
Mark Ghuneim, CEO of Trendrr, likes to call this future measuring system the Passion Index. Whether the term catches on or another name arises, we can be sure that television networks, social media and Nielsen have opened the door for a new, additional way to measure television ratings.