TV saves Twitter

Before Bruce Daisley chokes on his cornflakes, let me just say that the above headline is utter rubbish.  Even so, it’s considerably less rubbish than the recent rash of ‘Twitter saves TV’ headlines.  There was this article in The Guardian and then Anthony Rose’s widely reported ‘it’s not the ad-break, it’s a tweet-break’ comment and in the last week plenty of ‘Twitterbowl’ nonsense has been coming from the States.

Thinkbox loves how TV and social media interact, as we have demonstrated over the last three years with various research studies and events on the topic.  But maybe we all need to calm down a bit.  So, in my official capacity of cold-water pourer and stamper on dreams, let me offer some perspective on the subject.

The official UKOM (UK Online Measurement) numbers for January state that 10.4% of the UK visited Twitter at all last month each spending an average total of 43 minutes there. That includes people just following and not tweeting themselves.  The equivalent numbers for linear TV in January were 98% of the UK watched some TV and on average spent 125 hours doing it.

The final episode of Sherlock – which broke the UK record previously held by the X Factor – inspired over 300,000 live tweets. It is a big number on the face of it, but at an average of 2 tweets per tweeter that’s fewer than 2% of viewers tweeting for one of the shows with the biggest impact on Twitter.

This week’s record live TV audience for the Grammys in the US has been credited to the social media effect and maybe that’s part of it, but I’m inclined to think that the tragic death of Whitney Houston, Adele’s return after surgery and Chris Brown’s performance might also have had an effect.   The recent Super Bowl notched up 12 million social media comments from a TV audience of over 111 million, so maybe 5% of the audience tweeted.  The most tweeted about ad (David Beckham’s pants) generated 109,000 comments – i.e. 0.1% of the viewing audience.  Valuable and growing certainly, but no reason to lose sight of the most important viewer experience viz the one happening via the TV screen.  I’d include broadcasters in that warning.

The rather unexciting truth is that Twitter and other social networking services simply tell us people like to talk about TV. They enhance some TV programmes – and ads – for some people; they can encourage more live viewing – or, more likely, reinforce loyalty to a programme; and positive comments can boost TV catch-up.

If there were no social media, TV would still be thriving and we’d just continue to talk to each other about it like we always have and still do vastly more of the time than we talk about it on social media. (Keller Fay says 77% face to face, 6% online, 17% by phone)

TV doesn’t need saving, thanks, and nor does Twitter.  Twitter themselves have said that 40% of tweets in prime-time are TV-related.  That’s quite a lot, but it means that 60% aren’t about TV.  Can we let this rather lovely relationship develop naturally without casting either party as the white knight or the damsel in distress, please?

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