Does Twitter Drive TV Ratings?

Is social TV the answer to TV’s problems?

Naturally, Twitter is pushing their close tie with live TV, claiming that Twitter is drawing viewers back to live TV, and encouraging them take part in the shared experience.

But does chatter on Twitter actually translate into ratings?

It depends who you ask.

1. Twitter is Key to Linear TV

We’ve been questioning whether Twitter is playing a hand in increased viewership for a while now — the 2010 Grammy Awards saw a 35% increase over the 2009 event, perhaps in part due to social integration.

According to Twitter’s Chloe Sladden,  "What we're seeing now is that Twitter is, in fact, about flocking audiences back to a shared experience, and that usually means a live one…If you're not watching live -- and reading the comments from friends, your favourite celebrities, and even total strangers via Twitter -- you're missing half the show.”

In regards to TV ratings, Sladden gave one particularly positive example from Oxygen Network with The Bad Girls Club. The East Coast premiere, which had a huge amount of live social integration, experienced a 97% ratings jump. The West Coast, which had no social element, saw just a 7% viewing increase that week.

But these findings need to be taken with a grain of salt - of course it’s in Twitter’s self-interest to push this viewpoint.

2. Twitter Isn’t Driving TV Ratings

But chatter doesn't always translate to ratings.

We recently started to rank TV shows based on the volume of tweets about the show while the episode aired. If Twitter is truly driving live TV viewing, the shows with the highest audience levels should have the highest tweeting-rates. And likewise, if a show has a huge Twitter response one week, we would expect more viewers to tune in for the next episode.

However, our results show a very different picture.

For the same week that EastEnders, The Only Way is Essex, and Masterchef topped the Twitter-chatter charts, only 2 of these shows made it into BARB’s most viewed TV shows.

Top Tweeted Shows: March 28- April 3 2011

Tweet Rank BARB Rank
EastEnders 1 3
The Only Way is Essex 2 142
Masterchef 3 27
Waterloo Road 4 28
Coronation Street 5 1
Hollyoaks 6 131
Newsnight 7 n/a
Benidorm 8 8
Family Guy 9 169
University Challenge 10 65

Top Tweeted Shows : April 18- April 24 2011

Tweet Rank BARB Rank
EastEnders 1 3
Doctor Who 2 4
Match of the Day 3 40
The Only Way is Essex 4 102
Masterchef 5 27
Britain's Got Talent 6 141
Newsnight 7 n/a
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation 8 n/a
Sing If You Can 9 55
Family Guy 10 144
Although this analysis is fairly basic, the findings are reinforced by recent research by  According to findings presented at Mashable Connect by Christy Tanner from , the most social shows on TV aren’t necessarily those with the highest Nielsen ratings.

Although some of these shows, like NCIS and American Idol, are also extremely popular in the Nielsen ratings, most social shows do not have huge ratings. Programmes like Glee, which have huge social media followings and a great web presence, barely rank in Nielsen’s Top 40.

So what does this mean for TV operators?

Just because social TV behaviour doesn’t appear to directly drive TV ratings, does not mean that social TV should be ignored. Social TV behaviour is only beginning, and operators need to be familiar with social TV before it starts to seriously impact TV ratings - which is a real possibility.

Regardless of its impact on viewing habits today, social TV still serves as an excellent way for viewers to engage with a show, and builds on the natural behaviour that viewers are already exhibiting.

Without a doubt, social TV integrations help build interactivity, personalisation, content discovery, and engagement into the TV experience- all essential differentiators for any TV operator.

Do you think Twitter will impact ratings in the future?

Emma Wells, Marketing Manager