Big Tweets Map to Big #TVRatings: Nielsen Study

While TV shows with a Twitter-happy fan base definitely have higher ratings, it still isn’t clear that heavy tweet traffic actually leads to a bigger audience, according to a new Nielsen study.

Nielsen, along with SocialGuide, evaluated fall 2012 premiere and midseason program ratings across more than 140 broadcast and cable programs. The finding: Twitter volume on the day of broadcast was one of only three variables analyzed -- along with prior-year ratings and advertising spend -- that affected TV ratings in a statistically significant way.  

"We expected to see a correlation between Twitter and TV ratings, but this study quantifies the strength of that relationship," SocialGuide CEO Andrew Somosi said.

About 32 million U.S. TV viewers actively engaged in Twitter conversations in 2012, according to SocialGuide, which Nielsen acquired last November.

Nielsen acknowledged that the study does not prove causality -- in other words, a lot of tweets doesn’t necessarily mean a specific show will see a lift in TV ratings. However, "the correlation we uncovered is significant and we will continue our research to deepen the industry's understanding of this relationship," said Mike Hess, executive vice president of media analytics for Nielsen. 

Nielsen is planning to create a "Nielsen Twitter TV Rating" for the U.S. market, to debut at the start of the fall 2013 TV season. The research company in December cut a multiyear deal with Twitter on the project. Separately, Twitter is drilling into social TV analytics with the acquisition of Bluefin Labs.

As you might expect, there’s a stronger relationship between Twitter and TV for younger audiences, according to the latest Nielsen/SocialGuide study.

For premiere episodes, an 8.5% increase in Twitter volume -- measured starting three hours before live air and three hours afterward -- corresponded with a 1% increase in TV program ratings among 18-34 year olds, the study found. (In other words, for the 18-34 demo, shows had an average of 8.5% more tweets for every percentage increase in ratings.) The 35-49 demo requires a little more chatter, with a 14% increase in Twitter volume associated with a 1% increase in TV program ratings for premiere eps.

The study also found a tie between Twitter volume and midseason episodes for both age groups. An increase in Twitter volume of 4.2% and 8.4% is associated with a 1% increase in ratings for 18-34 year olds and 35-49 year olds, respectively. Furthermore, for midseason airings, Twitter was responsible for more of the variance in ratings for 18-34 year olds than advertising spend, according to Nielsen and SocialGuide.   

New York-based SocialGuide is now a wholly owned subsidiary of NM Incite, a joint venture between Nielsen and McKinsey. SocialGuide analyzes Twitter data in real time for programs aired on 235 of the most popular U.S. television channels, including Spanish-language channels.