Not surprisingly, a lift in ratings often yields more tweets.
According to the findings, a rise in live TV ratings drove up the
number of tweets about the programming among 48% of the episodes
sampled. But more interestingly, on the flip side, an increase in
the volume of tweets drove up live TV ratings in 29% of the
episodes included in the study.
To gauge the correlation in both directions, Nielsen conducted
two separate analyses. First, it performed a minute-by-minute time
series analysis to see if increases in TV ratings generated more
tweets within a window of five minutes. Then it looked in the other
direction to see if more tweets produced higher tune-in within the
"We saw a statistically significant causal influence indicating
that a spike in TV ratings can increase the volume of tweets, and,
conversely, a spike in tweets can increase tune-in," said Nielsen's
chief research officer Paul Donato, in a statement.
Intuitively it makes sense that heightened Twitter activity
causes people to change channels. If you see tweets about
remarkable athletic prowess being demonstrated in a basketball game
or hilarious insults being traded in a presidential debate and
you're already sitting on the couch flipping channels, it follows
that you're likelier to check out the source.
But there are abundant high-profile examples of broadcasts whose
ratings didn't live up to the massive chatter they drove on
Twitter. Oprah Winfrey's interview with Lance Armstrong and MTV's
Video Music Awards last fall are among them. And the first
airing of "Sharknado" had underwhelming
ratings compared to previous SyFy titles, despite its massive
Twitter explosion (though the
second and third airings did substantially better).
The absence of detailed information about Nielsen's methodology
also raises a few questions. The correlation between Twitter and
live TV events is well understood, but what about other genres and
programming with an older audience? Did Nielsen's sample include a
wide cross-section of programming, or did it focus on broadcasts
that over-index for high social engagement? Nielsen didn't reply to
request for comment by press time.
For Twitter, proof of the two-way causation between tweeting and
tuning in could be helpful as it pitches its new TV ad
targeting product, through which advertisers can show Twitter
ads to people who've already seen their TV ads.
Separate from this research, Twitter and Nielsen are readying
their previously announced Nielsen
Twitter TV ratings to be available for the fall TV season. It
will measure the total audience for social TV activity on Twitter,
including both people who tweet and people who see those tweets.
Twitter is supplying the data, but the product will be sold by
Nielsen, which hasn't yet announced what the unit of measurement