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The Nielsen Twitter ratings: a new way to measure TV popularity

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Conventional TV ratings, which are based on a small sample of “typical” TV viewers, seem almost quaint in the era of DVRs, streaming and social media. Now, it looks like even Nielsen(s nlsn) — which has long issued those ratings — is ready to acknowledge that fact.

On Monday, the company announced a new metric called the “Nielsen Twitter TV ratings” that measures the social media activity of a TV show audience. The system is based on SocialGuide, a technology acquired by Nielsen that tracks Twitter activity for more than 36,000 programs and purports to identify how many tweet are associated with a given show. It will complement Nielsen’s existing ratings, which are derived from devices installed in the TV sets of a small number of “representative” households.

The new system is an acknowledgement of how the “second screen” has become a permanent feature of TV watching as Americans use smartphones, tablets and laptops to talk about a show as they’re watching it.

Nielsen’s release is short on details about how the system actually works. It refers to a “sophisticated classification process” but doesn’t explain how it will account for different age groups and audiences — does it, for instance, acknowledge that a show may be wildly popular among seniors but still gain few tweets? It seems likely that, despite a claim to measure the “number of unique tweets associated with a given program,” there will still be some hocus-pocus involved.

The system is slated to be commercially available at the start of the fall 2013 TV season.

3 Responses to “The Nielsen Twitter ratings: a new way to measure TV popularity”

  1. nontechietalk

    @ricdesan – they’d probably focus on live events to start calibrating their measurements.

    @steve – they might just capture hashtags ,such as “#Flashpoint” during the last episode last Thursdat night.

    Either way, any rating system is just a representation based on a small sample, they’ve never been perfect but give the industry another metric to work with,
    along with “rating” and “share.”

  2. I’d like to know how they distinguish whether a tweet even is about a TV show. Some cases are obvious, but how about shows with common names like The Office, Big Brother, or House?

  3. There are so many issues with the validity of this new analytic that I would love to see how they deal with just one; the time lapse issue! Since viewing habits no longer confirm to an antiquated episodic paradigm, how are they going to know what was talked about and when?