Do Tweets drive tune-in for television? The empirical evidence is growing.

Driving tune-in is one of the key objectives for broadcasters to get their audiences to tweet. The empirical evidence for this relationship is thin. A Nielsen US study from 2013 was the only substantial public source available, stating that in 29% of the cases, an increase in Tweets resulted in an increase in ratings. After the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics NBC saw no noticeable effect on ratings. Now Twitter strikes back with a promising study from Kantar UK. 

Twitter increases ratings with 2% for shows with a lot of buzz

As a warm up to the launch of Twitter TV Ratings Kantar Media has released a report that examines the relationship between TV viewing levels and Twitter. The data collection ran from 1 June 2013 to 31 May 2014 and takes in over 110 million TV-related Tweets from over 13 million unique users in the UK.

The main conclusion is that Twitter can increase ratings:

For TV episodes that have a significant volume of Twitter activity, Twitter has a positive causal relationship with viewing during 11% of broadcasts.

Where there was a positive effect from Twitter to TV, it added 2% to the total audience during the broadcasts.

Kantar has actually taking the correlation reported by Nielsen in 2013 a full step further by asserting and quantifying a causal relationship. Causality is notoriously difficult to prove, but Kantar makes a very good case by using the Granger causality. This time based causality won Engle Granger a noble prize for economics in 2003. Pretty solid for media research.

To illustrate the effect, Kantar has published a per minute analysis of  Tweets and Ratings for an episode of The Voice UK.

ComingNext.TV - Twitter contribution to the Voice ratings

Is Twitter buzz a cure for low ratings?

The uplifting effect of Twitter buzz on TV ratings is selective, it differs per channel, per genre and per show.  Twitter buzz can boost ratings in some cases, but is not a cure all for low ratings. As more research becomes available we are gradually getting a more complete picture of the relationship.

Specific channels and genres generate more Tweets than others:

Across a broad time period, TV Tweet levels correlate with TV channel shares, although some channels (ITV, ITV2 and E4) over-perform on Twitter relative to audience shares.

TV Tweets have a noticeable skew towards entertainment, talent shows, constructed reality, documentaries, some dramas, soaps and special events.

Twitter activity seems a good indication of the popularity of a series, not the ratings of an episode:

Whilst we have seen a good long-term correlation between audience trends and Twitter volume for the Twitter TV Top 30 series with the most Twitter activity across the year – the relationship is less evident if we look within series at trends from episode to episode.

However, most successful TV series attract fairly loyal viewers and therefore there is little variation in viewing from episode to episode anyway. This minimises the opportunities for correlation with Tweets, which are driven more by episode content.

Correlation between Twitter and TV audience

Twitter TV activity correlates with audience size at a very broad level: the shows with the largest volume of Twitter TV activity tend to have the higher audiences. Also the correlation is largely one-way: some of the top watched shows have hardly any Twitter volume. If we look at the top 30 TV series in terms of Twitter volume, 28 were on air the year before. 16 had increased their amount of Twitter activity and 12 had decreased. This correlated strongly with the direction in which their gross audience across the year had moved. For these TV episodes that have a significant volume of Twitter activity, Twitter has a positive causal relationship with viewing during 11% of broadcasts. Looking just at those broadcasts – where a positive causal relationship  was detected – a 2% uplift in minute-by-minute ratings (TVRs) was attributed by Granger to Twitter activity during the show. If we re-base on all surveyed broadcasts across the year this equates to a 0.2% uplift overall.

Pre show Twitter activity

In addition to an increase in ratings research by Nielsen found that Tweets can positively impact the number of VOD views or delayed views for a specific show. But what about pre- and post show activities? Many shows offer related content around the airing of a show to engage the most devoted viewer. Releasing behind the scenes footage, replays of major events, or asking viewers for input, a program can create significant buzz before a show even airs. Kantar’s research found evidence of correlation between immediate pre-show Twitter activity and the subsequent uplift in viewing at the start of the show, but this can’t be statistically isolated from other contributory factors that may cause people to tune in (marketing, promotions, word of mouth for example). Consequently the causation analysis from the research only looks at the Twitter effect during the broadcast itself.

Another interesting findings from the study was that the top 30 TV series in terms of UK Twitter activity account for 50% of all UK Twitter TV activity, despite accounting for only 9.1% of all viewing by volume. The X Factor dominates, inspiring 8.6% of all Tweets across the year, despite being on air for only four months in the year. The research did a deeper analysis for the impact of pre-show Twitter activity for the X-Factor.

Analysis of the impact of pre-show Twitter activity for X-Factor

The grey shape is the ‘normalised’ viewing shape for the show at that time, day and duration – the reference – with the actual viewing overlaid: the white line.

ComingNext.TV - Social TV - Pre show Twitter activity X Factor

The research found that this episode had a higher than usual uplift as the show starts. The X-Factor typically attracts a high number of ‘anticipatory’ Tweets that may work as a call to action for viewing, which results in a positive correlation between Tweets and uplift.

The key take outs from the research

  • Popular shows which generate a lot of social buzz can increase their ratings with 2% during the broadcasts. However, this does not imply any show that can generate social chatter will see this impact. It mostly encourages popular shows to optimize their social media strategy during a show to generate the most reach.
  • Pre-shows Twitter activity can generate a relatively high jump in viewing. The uplift for these shows appears to be steeper than other shows. Although the research did not find a statistically isolated relation between the number of pre-show Tweets and the amount of viewers that tune-in it seems likely that pre-show activity impacts the number of people that tune in when a show starts.
  • These effects are only seen for specific TV shows and should not be generalized to any format or channel. Especially entertainment, talent shows, constructed reality, documentaries, some dramas, soaps and special events seem to be affected by the number of Tweets around their show.

You can find the entire research here.

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