Can Twitter Help Sell TV Ads?

Beware, all that tweeting you did during the season premiere of ABC’s “Scandal” is being officially monitored. But don’t worry, national security isn’t coming after you. It’s just your everyday, average advertising dollar.  The AC Nielsen Company just announced the new Twitter TV ratings report that tracks how many individuals tweet about a particular show and the number of people who see those posts.  Nielsen’s goal is to capitalize on the TV “second screen” phenomena, which suggests that we’re not just watching “NCIS” or “The Blacklist,” we’re tweeting or Facebooking about the program at the same time.  In fact, stars, writers, and producers of the programs are also “live tweeting” with fans during the programs.  This in turn, supposedly can drive up “live” viewing numbers for these shows.  Nielsen hopes that by keeping track of all these tweets, it will be able to show advertisers that, with apologies to Field of Dreams, “if you tweet it, viewers will come.”

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Honestly, it’s about time.  I’ve said for years to anyone who would listen that Nielsen, already battling criticism about its antiquated data gathering methods, should find a way to monitor social media and use those numbers to help sell advertisers on programs.  Not to mention that advertisers are demanding better data to help them make sense of the “second screen” phenomena.  Even Comcast is getting into the “social TV” game with its new “See It” button that will soon appear on certain tweets and allow viewers to click and watch or record the shows instantly.  Now, just how reliable tweets are at judging what an audience thinks about a program, much less if they tune in, remains to be seen.  But the fact that people are mass tweeting frequently about shows suggests there is an interested audience, something advertisers rely on.

Initial public reaction to this ‘social TV’ trend seems positive, although industry analysts are more skeptical, saying time will tell how the Twitter TV ratings fare, and if tweets accurately reflect the audience data that advertisers want. Me, I’m simply going to go tweet my heart out about my favorite returning show (#ArrowCW) in hopes of its getting strong enough Twitter TV ratings to earn it a third season…and if I’m lucky, a re-tweet from series star Stephen Amell (@amellywood).
Sara Magee
Assistant Professor, Ph.D.
Communication Department
Loyola University Maryland

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