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Nielsen TV ratings push into social media

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Media-data company Nielsen is best known for its ratings of Americans’ TV-program-watching live in real-time, or watched later using a DVR device.

But the company has also been expanding its data-gathering and analysis to better capture consumers’ new TV-watching behaviors — such as, watching shows on streaming services like Netflix, and on digital-only platforms.

Nielsen is also enhancing its monitoring of social-media content about TV shows. The company is expanding on its existing partnership with Twitter, and will begin analyzing data from Facebook in early 2016 to create new “social content ratings.” The company said data from Instagram will be added to the mix in the near future.

Nielsen said in its press release that it would deliver “standardized third-party measurement of program-related conversation for each social networking service tracked and gross totals across social networks. Measurement will include social media authorship (e.g., posts, Tweets), engagement (e.g., comments, likes, replies, Retweets, shares), reach (audience and impressions) and demographics (age and gender) as available.”

According to Tuna Amobi, an equity analyst covering media companies at S&P Capital IQ, “the perception for a long time in the industry is that Nielsen has been somewhat slow to adapt their measurement to changing patterns of media consumption.”

Amobi said Nielsen will now have more data to offer media companies and advertisers about the nature, reach, demographics, and distribution patterns of social-media content about television.

Phillip Swann, publisher of, is skeptical that a high level of social-media traffic associated with a given program correlates closely with a program’s likelihood of attracting a big viewing audience and high Nielsen ratings.

“I think all it does is measure noise and buzz,” said Swann. “You might simply say on Facebook, ‘Hey, that’s a good comment. I also think the star of that show doesn’t look good these days.’ It doesn’t mean you’re watching the show. It doesn’t mean you’ve ever watched the show.”

But media analyst Jack Myers, publisher of, said that Nielsen’s aggressive expansion into social-media monitoring is crucial for keeping the company’s ratings relevant, in an age when people can watch programs whenever they choose, on an increasing variety of devices and platforms, in single-episodes or by-the-season. He said providing more extensive data on program-related social-media activity will provide valuable information to content providers, media distributors and advertisers.

“Advertisers are paying a lot more attention — not just to the live ratings, but to audience engagement,” he said. “They want to know which programs are getting the original buzz, which programs are getting shares and likes.”

Nielsen said in its press release that the data it receives will not identify individual Facebook users: “Facebook will deliver directly to Nielsen the aggregated and anonymous program-related conversation on Facebook, including posts shared with friends, family and publicly, while respecting and in full compliance with consumer privacy.”

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