Christmas tweetings

Any regular reader of this blog will know two things: that our Research Director receives the occasional threatening wedgie, and that Thinkbox’s love for Twitter knows few bounds – and not just because of the divine Bruce.  Twitter recently held an event called ‘Twitter TV’ at which they invited Thinkbox to speak.  At the event, Bruce Daisley proclaimed that ‘Twitter loves TV and TV loves Twitter’ (might have been the other way round but you get the point; it was a love-in).

The mutual respect is real and all around the world TV companies and Twitter are having grown-up conversations about working together.  Thinkbox has been promoting the benefits of social media for TV and TV advertising for some time; TV provides lots of the inspiration for social media which in turn amplify TV. Our research study, ‘Screen Life: the view from the sofa‘, examined the multi-screening phenomenon and the implications for TV programmes and advertising, which were overwhelmingly positive (it’s won some awards too, which we’re sickeningly boastful about).

From Question Time to Loose Women, TV producers are busy encouraging viewers to respond via social media to shows, and TV advertisers are also getting into the habit. Serious time is then devoted to analysing the volume and, crucially, the sentiment of tweets and other social media comments. Broadcasters are encouraging TV producers to present their ideas for how interaction – via a dedicated a companion app or via generic 2nd screen apps like Shazam and Zeebox – might enhance the viewers’ satisfaction at the time of the initial format presentation.  Social media is encouraging some people to watch more live TV, in order to be part of the conversation, and sometimes comments and recommendations on social media can encourage people to tune to a certain programme live or watch later on-demand.

That all sounds tickety-boo. Wonderful even.  So you might wonder what on earth the miserable old Cassandra at Thinkbox has found to fret about now.

Well, our genuine enthusiasm has always been tempered by some caution that we should not get too seduced by the easily countable data that social media provide.  We need to keep this in perspective.  I repeat this again now because it has just been announced that Twitter and Nielsen in the US have teamed up to launch the ‘Nielsen Twitter TV Rating’.

Their very bold press release describes it as ‘the definitive reach metric for social TV audience measurement and analytics’; says it is ‘the first-ever measurement of the total audience for social TV activity – both those participating in the conversation and those who were exposed to the activity – providing the precise size of the audience and effect of social TV to TV programming’; and that it aims to ‘help broadcasters and advertisers create truly social TV experiences’.

So here are five questions to ask yourselves:

1) What will Nielsen be measuring:  potential reach or actual reach?
2) What % of the viewing audience is commenting via Twitter?  Our research suggests typically less than 1%.  Many times more comments are being made face to face on sofas across the land but we choose to ignore those.  And 50% of tweets come from 0.5% of Tweeters, so hardly representative
3) Why does this matter for TV advertising?  Some clever chaps, Ben Ayers from Blinkbox and Paul Frampton from MPG Media Contacts, have suggested that an audience armed with their smartphone etc. ready to tweet might also respond more instantly to TV advertising.  If response is what you want then that’s obviously good.  If immersion is what you need, then maybe not.
4) What might be the effect on commissioning?  If the market starts valuing more highly the advertising in them, there might be a move towards the genres of TV that generate the most buzz, relative to their viewers.  So perhaps we’ll see more live, more participation, more sport, more scandal and shock (all of which are important of course in their place, but seem to promote relatively more tweets).  Maybe we’ll see less serious drama, current affairs, science…
5) Is ‘engagement’ a helpful word to use?  It suggests a programme that people are absorbed in, interested in or moved by.  Often, those are the reasons people are commenting, but not always.  Anyone who follows tweets during Eurovision will know that it isn’t always enjoyment/approval that is being expressed.  Without sentiment analysis, counting Tweets has limited value.

So, forgive me, but please tweet this with some caution. I don’t mean to knock the stuffing out of this new initiative, and I’m not saying it is a turkey, but I just think we should all take stocking of what it actually means. Merry Christmas!