On Monday, Twitter announced a deal with Nielsen to provide an official ‘Twitter TV’ rating for the US. This news came just over a month after Nielsen announced the acquisition of SocialGuide, an analytics company who measure – you guessed it – engagement with TV programmes on Twitter.
The new ratings aren’t expected to launch until later next year, and for the time being at least it looks like they will be US-only. But the creation of an ‘official’ ratings system in the US is bound to lead to an increased interest in something similar in the UK.
Over the course of 2012, we have been looking at the relationship between TV and Twitter (including, amongst others, a project around the Olympics), and trying to get a clearer idea of what can be learnt from social media data about television viewing. From this, we have a few ideas of what a ‘TV Twitter Rating’ might be able to offer that existing social listening/buzz monitoring tools alone can struggle to provide.
New Television Behaviours
With smartphone penetration in the US having passed the 50% mark and one fifth of US households having tablets, Nielsen’s own research shows that typical owners of these these devices are using them while watching television several times a week at least – with around a quarter doing this several times a day. At the Future TV Advertising Forum recently, Dan Biddle (head of TV partnerships at Twitter) revealed that 40% of tweets are about television shows during peak TV hours.
Alongside the growth of social media over the last 5 years, this indicates a significant change in the way that audiences are watching television. While before, TV viewers might have also been reading books or magazines (or maybe even talking to other people in the room), this combination of broadcast programming with 200 million active Twitter users regularly talking about the same thing at the same time represents something different.
Predictability of Social Media
The idea of planning for social media conversations means knowing what people are going to talk about before they start talking about. Obviously, this presents a challenge – not unlike asking someone to predict what the front page headlines will be next Thursday, or what the weather will be like in a couple of weeks time.
But one thing that is predictable and regularly drives online conversation is television. We know that the average Brit is spending about 4 hours a day watching television, mostly in the evening, and we know what programmes are going to be on. So this is an area where, even if we can’t predict exactly what people are going to be saying, we can make a good guess about what it will be about - which presents an opportunity for social media marketing.
Social Engagement Ratings
The most obvious starting point of a ‘TV Twitter rating’ is to identify where TV and Twitter are coming together, and seeing which shows are generating the most buzz. If you are a Twitter user then you will no doubt have a view on this already – you will probably have seen how Saturday night’s XFactor broadcast can quickly dominate your Twitter timeline.
But the benefit of typing these metrics in with TV audience measurement is not just seeing how much ‘buzz’ is there around a particular television programme, but how it relates to the size of the audience. This is where television ratings will come in.
From our own work at SMG this year, we saw that there are the predictable big programmes that create a big buzz (for example, major sporting events and award shows like the MTV Music Awards or Eurovision Song Contest), but when you start to look at the relationship between Twitter volumes and audience size, things get a bit more interesting.
Looking at something like a ‘tweets per rating point’ measurement, you start to see that there is a greater intensity of activity coming from certain shows with smaller audiences – and not always the ones you might expect. For example, last years Take Me Out in the UK saw significantly less activity on Twitter than some of the bigger programmes – but compared to the size of the audience, it had a far greater intensity of social activity per audience member. A full integration of TV and Twitter data will create real opportunities to make the most of smaller but highly engaged audiences like these.
Predicting Social Engagement
So, from the first step of an ‘activity per audience member’ measurement, you can then start to look for the kinds of patterns that you can’t get from looking at buzz volume alone. What genre of programmes are leading to high social engagement? Are there particular days or times when people are more likely to be tweeting about television programming?
Perhaps more interestingly, this will start to uncover the patterns of how different types of audiences are ‘socially engaging’ with programmes. In our analysis earlier this year of a selection of programmes with larger TV audiences, we expected to see that larger younger audiences would be more likely to be tweeting about the programmes they were watching. Interestingly though, a more significant factor turned out to be the proportion of younger to older viewers (under 35s to over 55s)– in other words, fewer older viewers seemed to be a better predictor of tweet volumes than more younger viewers. (An explanation of this might be that the audience composition tells us something about the content of the programming – a younger audience might feel more connected to programming that feels like it is ‘for them’, and therefore more likely to tweet about it.)
Better TV audience understanding
But assuming that a ‘TV Twitter’ metric will be all about Twitter and social media might be an oversight. While Twitter might be relatively small (when compared to usage of Facebook, email, text messages and other social/communications platforms), it is very public – which makes it a useful proxy for evaluating audience behaviours, rather than simply activity within Twitter.
Existing TV ratings measure the size of the audience, typically based on TV viewing meters and/or self-completion diaries. But what they don’t report is on the way that people are watching – the difference between watching one of your favourite programmes and being in the room while someone else watches their favourite programme obviously means quite different viewing behavior.
So while there is an obvious application for the kind of advertising that seeks to start online conversations (or ‘Likes’ or retweets), there is a broader point that this measurement gives us a new dimension in understanding viewer behavior. At one end of the spectrum might be the viewer who is more interested in the online conversations about the programme than the programme itself. At the other end would be the viewer who is utterly glued to the screen – who might want to tweet about the programme before and after, but wont want to interrupt a moment of the viewing experience. Putting social media actions aside for the moment, different types of advertising might be better suited to different types of behaviours.
Or to put it another way, simply assuming a low ‘Twitter TV rating’ means a low value television experience could be a mistake.
Will it come to the UK?
Billions of dollars in the US (and billions of pounds in the UK) change hands based on the accepted currency measurement of television viewing, which makes changes in measurement methodology a challenge at the best of times. In the US, the measurement system is owned and run by Nielsen. In the UK, we have BARB; a JIC (Joint Industry Committee) which represents the interests of both television broadcasters and advertisers, and aims to provide a universally accepted measurement system.
What this means is that while it is relatively straightforward for Nielsen to implement innovative changes to the way its measurement works, for BARB to formally integrate this kind of reporting in the UK would require the agreement of all partners – not just on how it would be measured and reported, but also for funding of the research. So it would probably make little sense for BARB to try to offer something similar in the UK – at least, not on an exclusive basis.
At first glance, this might seem like bad news for innovation in the UK’s television industry, but in this case the opposite is more likely to be the case. While nobody is likely to provide an ‘official’ TV/Twitter metric, anybody with access to BARB’s viewing figures and Twitter data (some of which is made freely available by Twitter through a number of APIs, or alternatively can be bought by their data partners) would be able to build a “Twitter TV ratings” system of their own.
But the seal of approval that SocialGuide’s data will carry next year – from the US TV measurement currency on one hand and Twitter themselves on the other – will set their data apart from competitors. And with Twitter’s data being readily available through 3rd party partners, while TV listings are made similarly public, there are – and will no doubt continue to be - competitors (such as BlueFin Labs, Trendrr and Networked Insights.)
So while this latest announcement might be bad news for competitors in the US, this might well lead to increased interest and open up new opportunities for them in countries like the UK, where TV measurement is owned by the industry rather than the measurement provider.