Neilsen, TV Ratings, and Twitter - Screen Week


By Molly Freeman

Photo by Chinen Keiyac.

When Nielsen first announced its new metric, the Twitter TV Rating, it seemed as if the company was attempting to move into the 21st century and adapt to new technologies. However, since the system debuted during the week of Sept. 23rd, the metric has received some criticism.

According to a press release from Nielsen last year, the Twitter TV Rating would present a way for television networks to understand viewers’ social TV activity on Twitter, as well as how many people those tweets reach.

The main criticism of the Nielsen Twitter TV Rating is that people don’t understand what it means. Since the new metric launched, there has been little overlap between the Twitter TV Rating and the standard Nielsen ratings.

For instance, during the week of the Breaking Bad finale, the show was the most tweeted-about TV event with 9.28 million tweets. However, it didn’t even crack the top ten when measured by the standard ratings system. Those analyzing the TV industry aren’t sure what to do with this knowledge.

For the week of Nov. 11- Nov. 17, the top five shows according to Twitter were: The Walking Dead, The Voice, American Horror Story: Coven, Scandal, and The Voice again. Meanwhile, according to standard ratings, the top five shows were: NBC Sunday Night Football, NCIS, Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick, The Big Bang Theory, and NCIS: Los Angeles.

Since there is absolutely no overlap between the ratings, it has led some, like Todd Spangler of Variety to draw the conclusion that there is less of a correlation between what viewers are tweeting about and what they’re actually watching.

“The Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings are not intended to demonstrate that a highly tweeted show means it will be correspondingly a highly viewed program,” he said. “Rather, the metric is designed to show the total Twitter activity relating to specific shows, to help networks and advertisers figure out how to better use the social service to drive awareness and tune-in.”

Additionally, while the Twitter TV Rating measures how much a show is talked about, it doesn’t take into account whether the tweets are positive or negative. So it’s arguable that these ratings do not provide any insight into the quality of a television show—although, it’s also arguable that the standard ratings never truly spoke to quality either, just whether someone tuned in.

However, the discrepancy between the Twitter TV Ratings and the standard ratings has confounded people because there are many possible reasons for it. For instance, are people tweeting about a show without watching it? Are people tweeting about it as they stream it illegally online? Are international viewers’ tweets counted in the new metric?

Or, as Beejoli Shah suggests in his article, “Nielsen’s New Twitter TV Ratings Are a Total Scam. Here’s Why”, does the Twitter TV Rating only measure what shows have the loudest—though not necessarily the most passionate—viewers?

On the other hand, the Twitter TV Rating gives a voice to fans that want to make sure their show stays on the air.

For instance, fans of The CW series, Supernatural, mobilized and circulated graphics that easily explained to fellow viewers how to make the new Nielsen metric work to their advantage. These graphics offered tips like “Only tweets from public accounts help the ratings,” “The more followers you have, the more you impact the ratings,” and “Don’t use multiple tags. Stick to one tag per tweet.”

Meanwhile, The Geekiary also helped break down the Twitter TV Rating for fans. They cite Nielsen’s calculations, which show that a Twitter audience for a show is about 50 times larger than the amount of people who are tweeting about it.

“If there are 1,000 people tweeting about it, that’s indicative of 50,000 people viewing those tweets. If you go onto Twitter and talk about the show you love as it airs, you are essentially representing 50 people to the networks.”

But where does all this information go and why is it important? Sure, it’s interesting to see what the most talked about shows are, but why does anyone care?

What it comes down to is what Shah suggests: money. As some people have moved away from watching live television—whether they’re using video-on-demand services like Hulu and Netflix, or downloading and streaming media illegally—the Twitter TV Rating provides a way for advertisers to gauge audiences that may not be included with the standard metric.

For all it’s worth, the Twitter rating system does provide a platform for an audience to watch a television show through a non-traditional means. Therefore, Twitter offers ad space to such an audience. So the Twitter TV Ratings give advertisers a way to measure and reach out to those non-traditional viewers.