How Twitter and TV Became BFFs

August 8, 2013
It looks like Twitter and TV are on the road to becoming best friends... at least when it comes to ratings. It’s long been speculated that an increase in tweets would drive up viewership but until now we’ve had little proof to back that up. A new study by Nielsen shows for the first time there is in fact a link between Twitter activity and a show’s popularity.

The question was not only to see if Twitter conversations caused viewers to tune-in but also if increased broadcast tune-in led to a spark in Tweets sent across the social networking site. The answer? Both.

According to Nielsen’s “Twitter Causation Study,” the volume of tweets related to a particular broadcast “caused significant changes in live TV ratings” 29 percent of the time. And conversely around half the time (48%) Twitter chatter had more people turning on their TVs.

A writer for Mashable explains the study, noting researchers analyzed minute by minute trends in TV ratings along with Tweets for 221 broadcast primetime episodes.

Paul Donato, Nielsen's chief research officer said, "Using time series analysis, 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.”

But wait a minute Nielsen, we all saw that trending hashtag for Sharknado and the ratings were well, pretty terrible. So, as a writer for The Atlantic points out just because a show receives a high volume of Tweets doesn’t mean its ratings will reflect the same. And Mitchell J. Lovett, a professor at the University of Rochester pointed out to The New York Times that, “It is hard to distinguish whether Twitter (or other social media) activity simply reflects existing interest (the person talks about the show because of an interest in watching or plans to watch) rather than causes it.”

However, Nielsen does go on to break down the findings even further by examining Twitter’s impact by genre giving us a little more insight. No shocker here — researchers found Tweets had the greatest influence on reality TV, finding an influence in rating changes in 44% of episodes. Comedies and sporting events were right behind, seeing an increase in tune-in by 38% and 28%, respectively.

So, what does this all mean? Simply that more and more people are tweeting about what they’re watching and a little Twitter chatter could go a long way. Nielsen and Twitter will team up to track Twitter conversation during programming starting this fall.