Why Twitter Can Increase Television Ratings For Shows Like ‘Scandal’

A new study from Nielsen and Social Guide confirms what already seems fairly obvious: Twitter can help boost the ratings for television shows. According to the survey:

The recent Nielsen/SocialGuide study confirmed that increases in Twitter volume correlate to increases in TV ratings for varying age groups, revealing a stronger correlation for younger audiences. Specifically, the study found that for 18–34 year olds, an 8.5% increase in Twitter volume corresponds to a 1% increase in TV ratings for premiere episodes, and a 4.2% increase in Twitter volume corresponds with a 1% increase in ratings for midseason episodes. Additionally, a 14.0% increase in Twitter volume is associated with a 1% increase in TV program ratings for 35–49 year olds, reflecting a stronger relationship between Twitter and TV for younger audiences.

Further, the study found that the correlation between Tweets and TV ratings strengthens for midseason episodes for both age groups. An increase in Twitter volume of 4.2% and 8.4% is associated with a 1% increase in ratings for 18–34 year olds and 35–49 year olds, respectively. Moreover, by midseason Twitter was responsible for more of the variance in ratings for 18–34 year olds than advertising spend.

There have been a great many attempts to incentivize viewers to watch television in the time slot. The traditional water-cooler approach assumed that viewers would want to talk about must-see TV with their colleagues. The recap made the water-cooler virtual, giving viewers who didn’t have friends and co-workers who were watching the same shows as they were access to a community of like-minded viewers with whom to dissect episodes. But if you want to wait a couple of days to watch an episode, or even a year, the recaps will still be there. The experience of reading a recap is ultimately a solitary pursuit, even if delaying it means you’re late diving into comment threads.


But Twitter comes closer than anything else to making it mandatory to watch a show live. Reading a Twitter stream after the fact, even if it’s synched up to an episode through a service like Zeebox, simply isn’t the same thing as experiencing it in real-time. The stream may be flowing next to the show, but it’s static — you can’t jump in and participate yourself the way you can with a comment thread. And if the conversation around a show is good, you want to be able to participate in it live. The best example of a show for which this has worked this way is Scandal, a show where the entertaining nature of the commentary and the quality of the critiques carried me through an early period of dislike. Smart shows are taking advantage of that conversation, and including their own stars and producers in it. It turns out the secret isn’t to replicate the water cooler online. It’s to replicate the living room.