I say inevitable because, over the last year or so, social TV analytics has gained enough traction in the audience marketplace that, for Nielsen to maintain its dominant position in television audience measurement, it would need to expand its reach into this growing subfield of television audience measurement (just as it has expanded into set-top box measurement as a supplement/alternative to People Meter-based ratings).
To some extent, you could argue that Nielsen’s acquisition of Social Guide legitimizes social TV analytics as a meaningful supplementary approach to measuring and valuing television audiences. Through the research I’ve been doing over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to see the different social TV analytics firms working to establish themselves (and, for that matter, the very notion of social TV analytics) as a valuable resource for television programmers and advertisers. Nielsen’s decision to integrate one of the largest of these social TV analytics providers into its business would seem to suggest that the provider of the primary currency in the television audience marketplace sees the importance in offering its clients a version of this emerging secondary currency as well. And, needless to say, Nielsen wouldn’t have made this acquisition of they were not feeling pressure from their client base to provide a more robust social TV analytics service.
A focal point of research these days has been on understanding the interplay between traditional ratings and social TV metrics. And certainly, Nielsen’s acquisition of Social Guide represents an opportunity to really ramp up this kind of research. Imagine, for instance, the kind of findings that might emerge when the viewing patterns of Nielsen household members can be directly linked with these participants’ social media activity. The holy grail of “single source” measurement (in which viewing behaviors and product purchasing behaviors are simultaneously measured from the same panel of participants) has proven untenable due to cost issues and methodological challenges. However, what we might call “next generation single source measurement,” in which viewing behavior and social media activity measurement are simultaneously measured from the same panel, would seem to be on the horizon. Though, of course, the great appeal of social media analytics is that the notion of recruiting and maintaining a representative sample can be essentially thrown out the window; so who knows if useful information could be generated from the social media activities of the relatively small sample of individuals represented within Nielsen’s household ratings sample, even when directly linked with traditional ratings data.
Of course, an important question that arises from this development involves what it means for all of the other social TV analytics firms out there (Bluefin, Trendrr, General Sentiment, etc.). Does Nielsen’s major investment in this space mean that the company is going to be able to establish and maintain the same kind of monopoly status in this area that they have long maintained in the traditional ratings space? In which case, the future of these other social TV analytics providers might be a bit grim (though most stakeholders in this marketplace would probably agree that some consolidation in this field is both inevitable and even desirable).
But in any case, the prediction that the future of the television audience marketplace is going to be one in which traditional ratings are going to coexist alongside social media metrics, and that both analytical approaches are going to play a meaningful role in the buying and selling of audiences, certainly is bolstered by this latest turn of events.