Nielsen measuring audience of TV-related tweets during programs

In a move that reflects the deepening connection between television and social media, Nielsen has introduced a new type of ratings system that seeks to measure the audience for TV-related conversations on Twitter.

The new Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings will take into account not only the people commenting on a TV episode, but also the broader universe of people exposed to those tweets. The measurement firm’s analysis found that the average Twitter audience for a show such as NBC’s singing competition “The Voice” is 50 times greater than the number of people tweeting.

“We always knew there’s a larger audience being impressed by and influenced by the tweets about TV,” said Sean Casey, founder of Nielsen’s SocialGuide unit. “We’re excited now to present that data.”

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Twitter has emerged as a virtual water cooler, where viewers gather to discuss in real time the events unfolding on TV — be it the finale of AMC’s Emmy Award-winning drama “Breaking Bad” or a high-profile sporting event such as the Super Bowl.

Some 19 million people in the U.S. produced 263 million tweets about TV in the second quarter this year, a 38% increase in volume of comments from a year earlier, Nielsen reported.

“It speaks to Twitter’s default status as being the essential social data point around television viewing,” said Tim Hanlon, founder of media and technology consulting firm Vertere Group. “And it speaks to a consumer consumption reality that television — and by extension, video — is a multifaceted thing. It is no longer exclusively a live, linear, sit-back-and-watch phenomenon.”

Both Twitter and Facebook have sought to capitalize on the popularity of TV shows and grab a piece of the billions of dollars advertisers invest in the medium. In Twitter’s regulatory filing last week in preparation for its initial public stock offering, the company describes how it has worked to make its platform more attractive to media outlets as well as to advertisers.

Networks and advertisers have been dedicating resources to capture audiences when their eyes are drawn to their smartphones, tablets or laptops — what the industry refers to as the “second screen.”

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Prominent TV showrunners such as Marlene King of “Pretty Little Liars” interact with viewers on Twitter as each episode of the ABC Family show airs. Advertisers have designed campaigns that pair TV and Twitter — such as a Wheat Thins giveaway that Twitter cited in its regulatory filing that generated more than 242,000 tweets mentioning the brand.

In such an environment, measurement is key.


“I think marketers and agencies in today’s modern media world have to be accepting of many more and new data points around media delivery and consumption,” Hanlon said. “The permutations of programming, and the advertising that goes with programming, are moving faster than the industry’s ability to measure it.”

Casey said SocialGuide has focused on measuring Twitter activity around TV since before its acquisition in November by Nielsen. It uses electronic program data for every program that airs, across 247 networks, to develop a set of key words, phrases and shorthand classifications (or hashtags) related to each show. It also has identified 35,000 Twitter accounts, created by networks, actors, athletes, professional sports teams and others associated with TV programming.

A Nielsen SocialGuide team also monitors conversations in real time to identify relevant key words and phrases that occur during a broadcast — such as Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s mention of “binders full of women” during a 2012 presidential town hall meeting that instantly reverberated through social media.

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This information helps SocialGuide understand how many people are talking about a show. With its new Twitter TV rating, it has expanded the universe beyond those typing their 140-character running commentary to those exposed to the remarks. Nielsen furnishes a list of those tweets about a show to Twitter, which identifies the users who were active on the platform at the time and would have been exposed to the comments.

Nielsen considers the moment a TV-related tweet crosses a user’s screen as an “impression” — regardless of whether the comment provokes any reaction, Casey said. It uses this new methodology to determine the size of the Twitter audience for a show such as ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” which in the week of Sept. 23 had 46,400 people actively tweeting about the dance competition, whereas its Twitter TV audience is 3.2 million. The number of impressions generated on the social media platform reached nearly 11 million, according to Nielsen.

But several network executives expressed reservations about Nielsen’s approach for measuring a show’s Twitter TV audience, with some saying there is no evidence that the users “exposed” to a tweet actually read it. Others reserved comment until they’ve seen the new numbers.