The Nielsen ratings service, which has been woefully behind the times for years, is finally getting up to speed. In addition to including DVR viewers in their ratings, they’re beginning to do a decent job of tracking television viewership online. If Netflix ever gives them the keys to do so, Nielsen would even start to provide ratings for Netflix series, as well. More importantly, Nielsen is really beginning to understand the power of social media, and how it affects television viewership, not only in terms of raw numbers, but in terms of engagement. This is both good and bad news.
Well, first, let’s look at what Nielsen introduced today, according to The New York Times:
Nielsen is now measuring what it calls the “unique audience” for Twitter posts about television, providing a more complete view of the phenomenon known as social TV. On Monday the company is introducing Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings, a product announced last year that professes to measure all the activity and reach of Twitter conversation about shows, even if it has yet to be embraced by television executives and gain a broad client base.
“We feel this is going to be a credibility-building moment for the industry,” said Andrew Somosi, the chief executive of SocialGuide, an analytics company that Nielsen acquired last November, in part to create the new product.
Measures of posts about a TV show (“Can’t wait for ‘The Walking Dead’ to start”) are just the tip of Twitter’s iceberg, Mr. Somosi said in an interview: “The full iceberg is the extent to which people are seeing those tweets.” For example, the 225,000 posts about the Sept. 26 episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” were seen by 2.8 million distinct Twitter accounts, according to Nielsen’s algorithms.
In theory, this is great: Nielsen will be able to provide a more complete picture. We will not only know how many people are watching a show, but how many people are talking about it. But, as one guy in the piece noted, “This is just the beginning.” There is a slippery slope here, I fear.
See, Nielsen exist to measure audiences so that the networks will best understand what ad rates to charge advertisers. If the Twitter conversation is factored in, and if networks can charge a higher rate for shows with a heavy social media presence, it may seek to goose the Twitter conversation. This is already happening with a lot of shows: Cast members are live tweeting the crap out of their own shows, which is great, if you’re watching live. But if you’re following say, a member of the Scandal cast on Twitter, but you’re not watching Scandal until the next day, you’re bound to be spoiled. Bummer.
Spoilers, however, go hand in hand with Twitter now, and we have to learn to accept it (especially those on the West coast). But, my bigger fear is that not just the broadcast networks, but HBO, Showtime, AMC, or FX shows may want to get in on the social media action, too. What’s one of the most obvious ways to goose social media conversations? Twitter scrolls.
I fear the Twitter scroll.
It’s already made its way onto MTV and the cable news networks, and if a realistic financial incentive makes itself available to network and cable channels, I am concerned that every zombie kill in The Walking Dead will include Twitter reactions at the bottom of our screens, or that the next Stark death on Game of Thrones will be accompanied by Patton Oswalt or Kelly Oxford’s hashtags. After all, Twitter is also going public soon, and with that, a huge effort will be undertaken to better monetize the service. It won’t be too long before Twitter, your favorite cable channel, Nielsen, and all the content providers start working together to make some sweet, sweet money at the expense of our viewing experience.