Twitter And Television

I think we can all agree that Twitter is a remarkable platform that’s having a significant impact on television. I’m not sure we can actually agree what that impact is, though.

Twitter touts itself as a “virtual water cooler,” a 21st century venue where people can gather to discuss whatever’s on their minds.  In a world where viewers increasingly watch television alone, Twitter really is creating online fan communities. During prime time, it’s not uncommon for more than half of the top-trending Twitter topics to be related to television shows.  Clearly if a show gets a lot of mentions on Twitter, this means something -- but what exactly?

One thing that Twitter should NOT be used for is straightforward TV measurement.  I know that many networks and advertisers want to get away from sample-based measurement and move to census metrics that measure everyone. And with 140 million active accounts, Twitter would appear to be a pretty big census.



Unfortunately, 140 million accounts is still just a sample, albeit a huge one, that does not represent the entire TV audience.  To state the obvious, Twitter users are younger, more tech-savvy and more affluent than the population as a whole, so their viewing patterns can’t be extrapolated to the full viewing population.

Plus there’s the practice by certain TV shows of posting hashtags on the screen, thereby actively encouraging their viewers to tweet.  Under standard TV measurement rules, if any show were to shout out directly to Nielsen panelists, Nielsen would immediately slap an asterisk on its ratings, thereby rendering them suspect. But no one seems to worry about the distorting effect of a show directly begging for more tweets.

There’s also the question of how much of a census Twitter really is. A lot of people have accounts but not everyone tweets. The New York Times recently quoted an executive from Twitter Amplify who said that “when people turn on TV they turn on Twitter.” This illustrates yet again the self-referential nature of most technology discussions. Just because you and your best friends do something doesn’t mean that the rest of the world does, too.

For example, after Super Bowl XLVII, Twitter announced that a record 24.1 million tweets were sent that night.  Now, 24 million is a big number -- but it pales in comparison to the 108 million people who actually watched the game.  And if you assume that the average Twitter user sent five tweets that night, that would mean that fewer than 5 million people were tweeting – less than 5% of the entire audience. That’s hardly a census.

On the other hand, Twitter could have a direct application to analyzing how engaged people are with a show, which could be important  -- since people who are intensely interested in a TV show are theoretically engaged with the commercials.

Part of the problem with Twitter, though, is that if viewers are TOO engaged with the show, they might miss the ads altogether. I know that when I’m live-tweeting a favorite program, my focus is on the iPad during the commercial breaks, not the ads.  I remember concentrating so hard on reading live #madmen tweets that I had to learn from Twitter that Christina Hendricks was on a Johnnie Walker ad during “Mad Men,” even though the actual ad was running on the show RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME.  So my engagement with the commercials is surprisingly low during my favorite shows, precisely because of Twitter.

Twitter can clearly play an important role in promoting TV shows and commercials.  By building digital fan communities, Twitter builds fan loyalty.  A lot of positive tweets about a show will grow audiences.

Twitter seems to have embraced this model. According to at least one recent report, Twitter is working closely with media companies to use the platform as a promotional vehicle. Unlike other online companies who have tried to siphon advertising away from TV to the Internet, Twitter is bringing a collaborative approach to help TV find new audiences. For example, Twitter includes video clips from shows or sports events into user streams.

Twitter has similar deals with advertisers, allowing them to send ads to people who are watching specific programming, a strategy that has been embraced by agencies like MediaVest USA.  The trick will be to develop ad-based tweets that people actually want to read. A Twitter version of a banner ad won’t be very exciting and could cause a backlash on the service itself.

As ubiquitous as Twitter seems now, it’s hard to remember that just five years ago, it was only recording 100 million tweets per quarter  -- about as many as are now recorded during the Super Bowl. This is such a new phenomenon that we can’t even know for sure how permanent a presence it will be. One way to make sure the platform doesn’t just turn out to be a fad, though, is for it to imbed itself more closely with television -- because, all the naysayers aside, TV is not going away.

9 comments about "Twitter And Television".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Peter Benjamin from MyOffices, June 4, 2013 at 4:39 p.m.

    You are right TV is not going away its actually exerting its dominance as the main media of the generation. When its all done the TV will engulf the web and the TV market. Samsung and xbox are on the right track. Today we are building with an app that takes all this in consideration and will operate like the digital TV Guide of the future. Its all about the experience and the metrics. What we offer is a metrics based backend system that quantifies the real viewers not the statistics. Give us a feed and let us show you how to take your tv on the go. TV is alive and well.

  2. Michael Natale from MCM Media Sales, June 4, 2013 at 4:51 p.m.

    TV may be alive and well but the ad supported tv model is a dying premise

  3. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications, June 4, 2013 at 5:59 p.m.

    Tweet all you want I just don't like to see hashtags on the screen and that goes double for the on-screen logo...

  4. Suzanne Sanders from S2 Advertising, June 4, 2013 at 6:07 p.m.

    I don't watch too much television. Too much to choose from! I don't follow a lot on twitter either. Again, too much to choose from! Twitter reminds me of the CB radio. What's you handle baby? It's going to be interesting to see if it fades out as a fad or has lasting power like a laundry detergent commercial!

  5. John Grono from GAP Research, June 4, 2013 at 7:33 p.m.

    Good post Gary. But I would posit that it is TV having a significant impact on Twitter, rather than the other way around. We know TV shows spike Twitter feeds but we're yet to see the inverse apply. Twitter can be used for 'sentiment' purposes and has a valid place, but for audience measurement I have very strong doubts. Don't forget that TV ratings report the 'average minute audience' - that is, if a buyer was to buy an ad what is the likely audience given they don't know when the ad will run. You can't get that from a Twitter feed.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 4, 2013 at 8:24 p.m.

    Edmund, this is so profound. If I cared one jot, I would have a twit account. Can we get an "app" to relieve ourselves of the blather on a show where I watch ads and pay for them to be there ?

  7. Nitin Narang from mediaentertainmentinfo, June 5, 2013 at 2:33 a.m.

    Nice article. More content is getting available online and consumption is getting spread across devices but TV is not going anywhere and will remains the centrepiece in the entertainment equation. You mentioned an interesting point of lost user focus during commercials which is quite real since the time get divided in looking at the second screen or switching to other channels...

  8. Stacey Schulman from HI: Human Insight, June 5, 2013 at 10:02 a.m.

    It's no surprise that social extensions of ourselves like Twitter and Facebook have become symbiotic experiences with television. In reality, TV is a social experience ... so it follows that it would be in virtuality as well. As for advertising effects, TVB has been exploring this with its Cultural Currency study and in its first phase has found that brands can build bigger social fan bases through partnering with the biggest, broadest content by a multiple of 15. It's great if 80% of your audience is "engaged" on Twitter, but if your audience is 1/5 the size of a broadcast show, the brand fans you build will be sized accordingly. Fans will tweet and hashtag and post photos ... that's what fan cultures do! Even Star Trek fans back in the 1960's audio taped their favorite episodes to create their own libraries. Marketers win by enabling engaged behaviors in partnership with programmers- the trick is is knowing which engaged behaviors to tap into. If you're curious how, check out TVB's Cultural Currency Study.

  9. Michael Natale from MCM Media Sales, June 5, 2013 at 10:39 a.m.

    I agree 100% Nitin....who really pays attention to commercials anymore. The affluent audience with the most buying power certainly does less and less because time is a precious commodity not to be wasted (20 minutes of commercial load in an hour drama) sitting there like a drone when you can multi task and "multi screen" which most do these days...but alas....the agencies and clients will pay 5-10% more in the upfronts for the privelidge! More for less is not a long term formula that works.

Next story loading loading..