Twitter’s Influence in the Future of Television

It’s no secret that people are Tweeting while watching TV. Truth is that attention is divided across the four screens, TV, phone, tablet, and laptop. Yet how attention is focused and expressed is also complementary across each screen. The relationship between screens and the shared experiences that unite them is the true promise of social TV and the future of engagement overall. Television has for the most part always been social. In many homes, the main TV resides in the living room and it has served as an entertainment hub and conversation starter for decades. What’s different today is that the role of the living room expands to cell towers and the cloud, as conversations traverse networks and apps connecting screens and people along the way. But what we think is a second screen experience is actually not what we may think.

People and their experiences are at the center of social TV. The television, as such, becomes the second screen feeding people with reasons to express themselves, spark engagement, and define who they are and what they think with every Tweet, status update, and selfie.

The promise of a more social TV experience has less to do with broadcast hashtags and embedded Tweets in programming.  The link between people and screens requires architecture. Creating apps, offering badges, encouraging tagged conversations, etc., is fine, but what defines the success of programming is not just access to corollary information, it’s the engagement triggers that become part of the program itself.

Why is that important?

The answer is social proof.

Social proof is defined as the course of action people take when they are uncertain about what to do or what they should be doing. According to social psychologists, people tend to look outside themselves and to other people to guide their decisions and actions. To bring it back to digital speak, there’s a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) that defines not only action but also a sense of real-time belonging. If programming is relevant among Generation C, a hyper-connected subset of viewers, social engagement across the screens increases awareness and drives viewership.

While many experts have debated the subject as to whether or not Tweets actually amplifies tune-in, the argument now appears to be moot. According to Nielsen and SocialGuide, the relationship between Twitter and TV ratings is now confirmed.

Nielsen and SocialGuide studied Tweets about live TV and compared Twitter against a number of variables to measure the link between Twitter with ratings. The companies examined chatter and minute-by-minute Nielsen ratings of 221 episodes of prime-time shows on major networks in the Fall of 2012. Twitter proved to be one of three variables — including prior year advertising spend and ratings — to statistically demonstrate a bona fide connection to TV ratings.

In an interview with the New York Times, Mike Hess, an executive vice president at Nielsen and the senior researcher involved in the study, shared an important finding, “Tweets caused a significant increase in ratings 29% of the time.”

According to the study, for 2012 premiere episodes, an 8.5% increase in Twitter volume associated with a 1% increase in TV program ratings for 18-34 year olds. Additionally, a 14.0% increase in Twitter volume showed a 1% increase in TV program ratings for 35-49 year olds. The study found a stronger relationship between Twitter and TV among younger audiences.

The study also established a correlation to stronger TV ratings for midseason episodes for both age groups. An increase in Twitter volume of 4.2% and 8.4% was tied to a 1% increase in ratings for 18-34 year olds and 35-49 year olds respectively. By midseason, Twitter was responsible for more of the variance in ratings among 18-34 year olds (Millennials) than advertising spend.

What does this mean?

Experiences are shared with or without you. Knowing that programming can in fact spark conversations and engagement, which in turn will drive tune-in, how would you program differently? That’s the key question and it’s not just related to television. The same is true for content, advertising, marketing, etc. The more relevant the message, the more resonate it becomes. As you develop your content, programming, stories, and more, be mindful of its ability to resonate with connected viewers and consumers. Introduce opportunities for social proof. Consider the digital culture of each medium and explore ways to plug-in to networks where you influence behavior through the actions and reactions of people.

The future lies in the ability to not just get people to consume content, but instead, build communities around it.


Brian Solis is the author of the book, What’s The Future of Business. He is also a principal analyst at Altimeter Group. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.


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