Commentary

'Scandal' And Miley Feed The Twitter TV Beast In Nielsen's First Ratings Release

Miley Cyrus and the ABC series "Scandal" led the first "Twitter TV Ratings" issued by Nielsen. The measurement firm announced this week that its gauge of social media interactivity around TV properties would add to the usual mix the actual reach that such messaging has in the Twitterverse. SocialGuide, which Nielsen acquired last year, has been issuing weekly reports on the most tweeted TV shows for a while. But with yesterday’s issue, Nielsen added unique audience to the mix.

As Nielsen defines it in this first report, unique audience in this context refers to “The total number of distinct Twitter accounts accruing at least one impression of one Tweet ascribed to a TV episode. Unique Audience is de-duplicated at the account level, so that a Twitter account will be counted only once for a given reported episode regardless of how many impressions the account accrued for that episode.”

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By ranking Twitter interactivity by reach instead of raw activity, Nielsen changes the order. ABC’s "Scandal" had a relatively huge number of overall tweets last week (712,900). But its actual audience reach (3.66 million) was not that far ahead of the second-ranking MTV show "Miley: the Movement" (142,400 Tweets reaching 3.19 million). Nielsen’s point in all of this is that the power of Twitter in the TV ecosystem is multiples greater than the raw user activity around a show. In this initial chart, there is more than a 10X and higher difference between the number of tweets and the number of people who received the tweet in a feed.

Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings (Week of 9/30-10/06)

Rank

Network

Program

Date

Unique Audience (000)

Impressions (000)

Unique Authors (000)

Tweets (000)

1

ABC

Scandal

10/3

3655.2

38,434.4

178.5

712.9

2

MTV

Miley: The Movement

10/2

3,185.2

13,641.2

90.9

142.4

3

NBC

Saturday Night Live

10/5

3,146.5

15,700.4

101.9

175.8

4

NBC

The Voice

10/1

2,619.8

5,962.5

61.5

106.6

5

NBC

The Voice

9/30

2,558.7

7,441.9

75.7

135.0

6

CW

The Vampire Diaries

10/3

2,688.4

9,597.9

101.8

278.0

7

Fox

Glee

10/3

2,270.1

7,495.2

86.8

196.0

8

ABC

Dancing With the Stars

9/30

2,092.9

6,770.1

33.8

59.8

9

Fox

The X Factor

10/2

2,039.0

9,044.2

96.0

255.2

10

Fox

The X Factor

10/3

1,802.5

6,292.0

75.8

188.8

 Source: Nielsen/SocialGuide

The Twitter TV Ratings also measure levels of involvement within an audience by including the number of “unique authors” posting around a show. "Saturday Night Live," "The Vampire Diaries" and MTV’s "Miley: The Movement" special had especially broad audience involvement, while "Dancing With the Stars" has a much lower number of active Tweeters. In fact, "DWTS" had a relatively low level of raw tweets, but it made the chart on the strength of the reach of those Tweets to 2.1 million Twitter users.

As social TV charts have shown all along, Nielsen’s first release demonstrates what a narrow universe of TV content Twitter really addresses. We have always known that reality programming is core to second-screen activity. The content is by nature interactive, and it is structured in ways that allow viewers to shift focus without missing much. Scripted drama generally invites less involvement. In fact, ABC digital chief Albert Cheng was recently quoted at a conference saying that second-screen programming “is not a game we want to be in.” He was referring specifically to serialized TV, he explained later. In these cases, the second screen proves to be more of distraction. Clearly, "Scandal," "Glee" and "Vampire Diaries" are notable exceptions. They may reflect different types of audiences and content and the levels of audience interactivity they generate.

To be sure, Twitter activity around TV reflects at best the activity of a narrow band of users around select content. Selling the platform as a persistent TV companion simply is wrong on the face of it. But at the same time, it is as bad a mistake to overlook the degree of engagement on dual screens that some shows and their communities of watchers inspire. 

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