Nielsen has long been the industry-recognized authority on TV audience measurement, yet it has been slow to respond to the growing role that social media plays in TV viewing. This begs a question as to the ongoing relevance of Nielsen in the age of quantum media.
Much has been written about time-shifted TV viewing and the second-screen TV experience (e.g., the interaction with content via tablet, smart phone, or PC while watching TV). According to TDG’s latest data, 88% of tablet owners use the device while watching TV, 68% of which check social sites to talk with others about the TV program they are viewing and 48% of which have used an app that synchronizes with the show they are watching. These integrated experiences are and will increasingly challenge the way consumers engage with TV programs, and no doubt raise concerns about how best to measure TV engagement.
While yesterday’s TV viewer may have enjoyed a “lean back” experience (distinct from the “lean forward” experience that characterizes PC use), many of today’s TV viewers seek a more interactive experience, one increasingly dependent on social interactivity. In this new world of quantum media, “viewership” is being replaced by “engagement” as the metric by which advertisers decide where to invest their dollars and best influence consumers. If TV viewers are engaged elsewhere—which is inherent in a second-screen paradigm—alternative audience measurement tools must be considered.
Social analytics companies such as Trendrr, Bluefin Labs, and Seevibes have developed capabilities to measure this activity, whether for a specific show or an entire day. Like Nielsen, these companies track viewing data for broadcast and cable programming, while splicing and dicing the statistics to reflect viewer demographics and usage behavior. However, social media analytics cover a wider range of viewing behavior across a wider range of platforms than does Nielsen. Hold on: why are such analytics so important? Does tracking social viewing behavior—meaning the level of engagement, raw number of messages, sentiment of chatter and volume of social followers for a specific show, etc.—provide greater insight into the desires of viewers? Good question.
A 2011 analysis by Nielsen and NM Incite (a Nielsen/McKinsey Company) studied the correlation between online buzz and TV ratings. They found a statistically significant relationship between the two, especially in the 18-34 demographic: that is, those programs with greater online buzz also enjoyed high TV ratings. Take last year’s royal wedding, for example. Nielsen reported that 23 million Americans woke early to watch it, while PR firm Weber Shandwick noted that the royal wedding prompted 2.2 million tweets.
It is obvious that Nielsen is paying attention to social TV analytics, even if it has yet to integrate social media variables into its TV metrics. To stay relevant and meet the needs of modern multi-screen broadcasters, however, it must move quickly or risk its long-standing industry status as the leader in viewing measurements. Yet Nielsen is not known for moving at Internet speed, instead as a lumbering giant that tends to respond after the fact; an insight well understood by the growing number of nimble, innovative competitors eager to take a piece of Nielsen’s revenue.