Twitter hype can boost TV ratings
A NIELSEN study has affirmed what nearly everyone in the television industry already suspected: Twitter conversations sometimes do cause people to turn on the TV set.
The study, to be released on Tuesday, examined Twitter chatter and minute-by-minute Nielsen ratings of 221 episodes of prime-time shows on networks.
Most of the time, there was no statistically-significant relationship between the two sets of data.
But Twitter messages were shown to cause a "significant increase" in ratings 29 per cent of the time, said Mr Mike Hess, an executive vice-president at Nielsen and the senior researcher involved in the study.
The ratings were also found to have an effect on the volume of related messages 48 per cent of the time.
Some genres of shows were much more likely to benefit from Twitter conversation than others.
"This validates (the fact) that additional research around this influence is worth pursuing," Mr Hess said. Nielsen and Twitter are business partners - they are promoting a new metric that measures online conversations about shows - so the study may provoke some scepticism. Its findings, though, are likely to be cheered by networks and marketing firms that have invested heavily in social media. Anecdotes about spikes in ratings credited to Twitter chatter have given producers and advertisers new hopes of assembling mass audiences.
Professor Mitchell Lovett of the University of Rochester, who studied Twitter-TV correlations, said that demonstrating causality had proved difficult in the past.
He said: "It is hard to distinguish whether Twitter (or other social-media) activity simply reflects existing interest from the audience, rather than causes it."
For that reason, the Nielsen study "could be ground-breaking", he said.