Can chatter on Twitter boost TV ratings?

A Saudi man prepares to login into his Twitter account on his laptop.

If you’re an advertiser who wants to buy commercial time on TV, most likely you’re looking at Nielsen data.

If you want to watch single men under 35, ask Nielsen. If you want to know what married women with kids are watching, ask Nielsen. As of today, if you want to know which shows people are tweeting about, you can also ask Nielsen. 

That last metric is all about trying to capture that elusive thing known as "buzz."  Because without it, advertisements rarely become sales, said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at the Altimeter Group.

“It’s probably never happened in history that somebody saw a commercial for a car and said, 'Bingo, that’s the car for me, I’m going out to buy it,'” she said. Lieb says the most that a  commercial can accomplish is to start the conversation. But for much of advertising history that conversation has been almost impossible to measure. Twitter claims to have a solution. And it got a boost from Nielsen today, which began offering advertisers data on which TV shows people are tweeting about. Brian Wieser is an analyst at Pivotal Research Group.

“Twitter might at least provide some benchmarks because it's really hard to set up listening stations around water coolers although the NSA may have some views on how to do that,” Wieser said.  

The idea is that if you’re an advertiser who wants buzz, then you can pick shows that gets buzz. But there’s a limit to how much you can learn from tweets. Nielsen counts how many are sent, not how many are read. And TV shows have yet to prove that tweets translate into more viewers, Weiser said.
But that won’t keep Twitter from making money off all those tweets anyway, said Shawndra Hill, a professor at the Wharton School.

“The data can be used to get insights into what consumers, in particular, of brands and TV shows think,” Hill said.  

And selling that data is proving to be a lucrative side-business for Twitter. In its IPO filing, it said it made $47.5 million from it.

About the author

Queena Kim covers technology for Marketplace. She lives in the Bay Area.

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