Remember when Twitter was saying it could boost TV ratings? Well, it turns out that’s probably not true. Indeed, anecdotal evidence might suggest something quite different.
Just over a year ago, the company trumpeted a study that said a whopping 92% of Twitter users took immediate action after seeing tweets related to a TV show, whether that meant tuning into it or looking it up.
But now, no less than NBC is saying that “immediate action” doesn’t necessarily mean much. The broadcaster says it saw lots of discussion on social media, which includes Facebook, of the recent Sochi Olympics, but that didn’t translate into extra eyeballs. As research chief Alan Wurtzel told the Financial Times:
“Why wouldn’t I want to say to you, ‘We have a potent new way in which we can drive ratings?’ It just isn’t true… I am saying the emperor wears no clothes. It is what it is. These are the numbers.”
This follows some data from Toronto-based consumer trends tracking firm Solutions Research Group, which in December found pretty much the same thing. SRG found that about nearly two-thirds of Canadian Twitter users were exposed to TV-related tweets, but only 17% had tuned in because of a post “while 11% have followed tweets about a show but not bothered to tune in. An additional 7% of respondents said they have decided not to watch a show because of comments on Twitter.”
“It’s a tune-in reminder, but not everyone that talks about a show is actually watching,” SRG’s Kaan Yigit told Marketing magazine. “It’s one of the reasons why TV ratings and social ratings differ.”
To split the difference, a Nielsen study last year found that Twitter can sometimes lead to better ratings – but only about 29% of the time. As Variety reports:
Tweets had the greatest impact on competitive reality TV skeins, influencing ratings changes in 44% of episodes. Meanwhile, comedy (37%) and sports (28%) genres also saw increased tune-in from tweets, while dramas were least affected (18%) by tweets during episodes.
There is the perverse flip side to this, where people actually stop using Twitter – at least temporarily – to avoid those dreaded spoilers:
Back in Toronto, but staying off twitter to avoid #GameOfThrones spoilers. Because it's Sunday night, and that's what happens on twitter.
— Ajay Fry (@AjayFry) April 28, 2014
The official jury decision on whether Twitter can help boost ratings – and therefore whether broadcasters might want to cement deeper ties with the company – is still out. But the cracks in the plan are emerging, which means Twitter might want to start thinking about other ways to grow and make money. Just as long as it doesn’t involve autoplaying videos in peoples’ streams…