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Can Facebook Predict This Year's Super Bowl Audience?

A new study from Nielsen and Facebook proves how Facebook chatter—and particularly shares—correlates with live sports viewing on TV.

[Photos: courtesy of Facebook]

Just how many people will tune in to the Super Bowl on Sunday? Log on to Facebook to find out.

The social media giant has just come out with data that proves not just what we already know—that people watch live sports on TV while scrolling through Facebook—but how, exactly, people interact with live sports on Facebook, and how the game continues to live on the social media platform long after the final buzzer goes off.

In a blog post today by Dan Reed, head of Global Sports Partnerships for Facebook, the company outlines a study it did with Nielsen analyzing Facebook activity during nine nationally broadcast, regular season NFL games in October and November.

The study's first finding was that Facebook chatter about a game in the 15 minutes before a game kicks off is a strong indicator of how large the TV viewership will be of the game in the first minute. Shared content on Facebook, in particular, gives a meaningful window into how many folks will tune in: For every shared post, 1,000 new viewers were added to the TV audience. A post on Facebook during that time frame equated to an additional 250 viewers.

This correlation—and the power of the Facebook share—continued even as the games progressed, and were in fact higher after the first 25 minutes of the game.

The study's final discovery is perhaps the least surprising: that Facebook sports chatter spikes when a game is over, as people turn to their small screens to quarterback what happened—analyzing plays, trashing opponents, and woot-woot-ing their teams.

So what does it all mean? For Facebook, the study is yet another argument for why advertisers should view the platform in the same light as television—in other words, as a place where premium ad dollars should be spent, given the engagement of its audience. As well as its size: During the 2015 Super Bowl, 65 million joined the Facebook discussion, making it the most-discussed global sports event of the year. The study also gives more weight to the argument that Facebook is a strong second-screen companion to TV—a position that Twitter has long claimed.

For Nielsen, which is in the process of rolling out its total audience measurement system, which tracks TV viewership across not just TV, but (almost) all streaming and online platforms, the sports study shows the extent to which it is invested in providing new, more relevant types of viewing data to advertisers and broadcasters alike. As a story in the New York Times this week made clear, media companies and advertisers are frustrated by the company's outdated measurement system and are clamoring for new metrics.

As for the rest of us, the study serves as a reminder: Pack your laptop, along with the beer, when you head out to your Super Bowl party.

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