Twitter: The New Standard for TV Ratings

On Monday, Twitter mentioned the impressive number of tweets per minute and the total amount of tweets during the two NFL Conference Championship games. This is definitely the new way to measure live engagement with TV shows, and it may be time to put the old Nielsen ratings aside.

Why Twitter is better:
  • Twitter’s “sample” size is large and growing daily. 17% of Americans are currently using Twitter: 54 million out of the general US population of 316 million. It’s likely more representative than Nielsen’s. Strangely enough, I couldn’t find the actual number of Nielsen Meters out there. I assume it’s a highly guarded trade secret? Also, it’s easier to join Twitter than to distribute and set up the Meters.
  • Twitter diversity: much criticism has been leveled at Nielsen for misrepresenting minorities in its US audience, resulting in lower ratings for shows targeted at minorities. Twitter, on the other hand, has a racially diverse US user base, better at representing viewing audiences.
  • Twitter usage isn’t tied to the living room. It’s mostly accessed on a mobile device (A year ago Twitter said that 60% of their user base accesses twitter on a mobile device at least once a month. I have to believe that that percentage has increased in the past year.) That means that viewing is not limited to your own home. If you go out to a sports bar and hang out with friends, you can still tweet. If you live in a dorm or with roommates, your voice still counts.
  • So much more nuance can be captured with Twitter. Not just what show someone watched in a certain time-frame, but how excited were they, what characters/participants/players they liked, and even specific plot twists, recipes, items, interviews, etc.
How Twitter can be better:
  • Shows and Twitter need to make it easier to tweet about the show. All shows need to be proactive about providing a unique hashtag for each show. They don’t need to be unique to that episode as the number of mentions can be matched to the the actual broadcast time. Right now there are trending hashtags that are auto-completed but these could be actively sponsored by shows to make sure their show’s hashtag is easier to mention.
  • Twitter needs to know more about its audience. Age, location, gender and ethnicity are the minimum. Income, hobbies, preferred TV shows and other entertainment, favorite sports team, favorite source of news, etc.
  • The audience needs to be compared to Nielsen to give an accurate alternative rating score. Is it a younger audience? Probably, but does it exclude older Americas? Does it exclude any demographic currently better represented by Nielsen?
  • Make TV more visible on the mobile app. For example, allocate a section in the Trends tab of the mobile app to currently showing TV shows in the user’s time zone.
There also need to be better analysis tools but as I have no idea what the networks are currently using, I can’t comment on how good it is.

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