This week was Advertising Week here in New York. And, as is always the case, a lot of interesting stories emerged from the event. A lot of them this time around focused on the continuingly volatile state of television ratings.
Concerns with the traditional Nielsen People Meter panel data continue to run high. This week, cable network and ad executives openly discussed the possibility of using set top box data as — if not a replacement — then at least a supplemental currency for People Meter data. According to this news item, CNBC’s chief revenue officer, Tim O’Brien, stated that his network “would be willing to engage in ‘conversations’ about using STB data in deal-making, perhaps for some type of secondary [ratings] guarantee.”
TiVo remains a vocal advocate of set top box data as an alternative to traditional People Meter data. TiVo is one of a number of companies, including Rentrak, TRA, and Kantar, that are offering set top box data as either (depending on your perspective) a supplement or competitor to Nielsen’s People Meter service. At one Advertising Week event, TiVo’s CEO Tom Rogers was quite critical of Nielsen’s service (though he refused to mention Nielsen by name). Rogers also emphasized what he sees as the importance of looking beyond measuring the television, noting that “The industry is ‘at risk’ if it proceeds with ‘much weaker data than, say, the Internet is able to provide.'”
Which brings me to what I think was the most interesting story to emerge out of Advertising Week, a new study by Nielsen and NM Incite that found some evidence of a relationship between social media buzz and Nielsen ratings. The results, though, are fairly underwhemling, particualrly given the extent to which discussions of the online buzz levels of individual shows are becoming a focal point of trade press coverage.
According to the study, a 9 percent increase in a program’s online buzz in the weeks before a program’s premiere corresponds with a 1 percent increase in the program’s rating among 18-34 year olds. Interestingly, over the course of a season, the relationship weakens, with a 14 percent increase in online buzz necessary to achieve a 1 percent increase in a program’s rating.
I’ve been talking for a while about the need for research on this topic of the relationship between new and traditional performance metrics. And this study certainly seems to be the most extensive and methodologically sophisticated study conducted to date on the topic. The study analyzed more than 250 cable and broadcast programs, and more than 150 million social media interactions. It also controlled for factors such as program genre, the length of time the program has been on the air, and dollars spent promoting the program.
But the bottom line is, at this point, that the empirically demonstrated impact of social media discussion on programs’ rating performance doesn’t quite measure up to the fixation on social media buzz discussion that characterizes the television and advertising industries these days. One news account indeed went so far as to characterize the relationship demonstrated in the Nielsen NM Incite study as “negligible.” Of course, maybe this relationship will become stronger over time, as participation on social media sites continues to grow.