Today Nielsen is launching the long-planned "Nielsen Twitter TV" ratings—it will assess tweets about a TV show as part of the company's ratings calculations.
It's an effort that began in earnest in November 2012, with Nielsen's purchase of SocialGuide. Twitter itself responded with the $80 million purchase of analytics companies Bluefin Labs for $80 million and Trendrr.
As the New York Times points out, the real strength in a tweet about a TV show is not necessarily the tweet itself, but rather the network of people who can then read it—Twitter is a force multiplier for viewers' opinions. The NYT says "only 98,600 people wrote messages on Twitter about the two-hour season premiere of Grey’s Anatomy last month." Though that actually sounds like quite a lot, rather than "only" about a hundred thousand people, it is indeed a small fraction of the Nielsen-calculated 9.3 million actual viewers. But each of those tweeters' messages were seen by a group of their followers—maybe thousands in individual cases—meaning the tweets could be tapped as a measure of the show's success.
In Fast Company's November cover story, for which we spoke to Twitter's Fred Graver, Chloe Sladden, and Ali Rowghani, we report that, in the run-up to this fall season, Nielsen released a study showing that there is a correlation between social activity and increased TV ratings. The story continues:
In August, another report claimed to show a causal relationship between tweets and TV viewership. Yet neither was embraced as proof of concept. "It was a small study," says Sabrina Caluori, VP of social media and performance marketing at HBO. "There were no premium or cable networks [included]." The report revealed that tweets caused ratings to spike for just 29% of the 221 episodes in the sample. Unsurprisingly, tweeters had the greatest impact on reality TV, affecting ratings 44% of the time. As for such specifics as how many tweets, exactly, it takes to lift ratings, Nielsen didn’t say. "We’re still looking to see additional studies they’ll be doing to see how our programming may be affected," Caluori says. Still, she is a Twitter believer. "Our take is that Twitter is another important word-of-mouth driver," she says, citing the "rabid" Twitter following of Game of Thrones.
Nielsen announced the initiative last year, and though it may not yet be as well known or perhaps as well regarded by TV industry executives yet, Twitter's slow and continuous growth and penetration into the public consciousness plus its upcoming IPO may mean the new rating ends up being quite influential. This is especially true considering Nielsen just discovered that tweets about a show can actually drive its traditional ratings figure up.