Why A Nielsen Ratings Service Based On Twitter Is Not Necessarily Welcome News

12.19.12 5 years ago 23 Comments

Starting in the fall of 2013, Twitter and the Nielsen will roll out a new ratings service designed to measure the popularity of a program based on the number of mentions on the social network. There’s no details yet on how exactly this service will work, but it’s being provided to “supplement” the existing, and archaic Nielsen ratings service. I do appreciate the fact that Nielsen is catching up to the fact that many of us are multi-screen viewers these days (the television set, plus an iPad/iPhone, which is often dialed in to Twitter or Facebook), but I’m not a huge fan of such a ratings service.

Why? Because Twitter has been notoriously unreliable in predicting the popularity of both television and movies. Some may remember, for instance, that two years ago, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was HUGE on Twitter, trending for basically three straight days, in addition to a lot of Twitter chatter during Comic Con. Yet, it only mustered $10 million on that opening weekend, a huge disappointment for the studio. Twitter is kind of like Comic Con in its predictive value: It creates a lot of online buzz, but that buzz doesn’t often lead to actual box office or, in many cases, ratings. Twitter mentions are inordinately unrepresentative, capturing not only an unrepresentative cross section of America, but only the ones more likely to speak up (in my “real” life, I have maybe two friends that are on Twitter, and neither tweet regularly, and all those people are semi-regular television viewers, although — as is the growing trend — most of their viewing is on Netflix, and always a year behind).

Still, the real reason I’m most reluctant to get behind the service is purely selfish: It’s because basing a television’s show’s popularity — and thus its chances at being renewed or cancelled — on social media is NOT going to improve the outlook for many of our favorite shows. In fact, Mashable has ranked the 50 television shows with the MOST social buzz in 2012, and — in many cases — unless you’re a kid, a teenage girl, a shut-in, or a news junkie, the Social Buzz ratings are not going to be your friend. Based on total social activity, here are the top 25 shows (you can view the top 50 here).

1. Spongebob Squarepants
2. The X-Factor
3. The Voice
4. Pretty Little Liars
5. Bad Girls Club
6. American Idol
7. Love & Hip Hop Atlanta
8. The Ellen Degeneres Show
9. Today
10. The Walking Dead
11. 106 & Park
12. Glee
13. Jersey Shore
14. The Vampire Diaries
15. The Simpsons
16. Piers Morgan Tonight
17. Good Morning America
18. Dancing with the Stars
19. Saturday Night Live
20. Big Bang Theory
21. Teen Wolf
22. Rugrats
23. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams
24. Family Guy
25. Big Brother

See what I mean? WTF is 106 and Park? Or Bad Girls Club? The ratings service is not going to change the dynamic: Shows like Big Bang Theory, singing competitions, and other reality fare (Dancing with the Stars, Big Brother) are still going to dominate the ratings.

Alas and alack.

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