Twitter Activity Spikes Boost TV Ratings in Some Cases, Nielsen Study Finds

Syfy's "Sharknado" drew much Twitter activity.

In 29 percent of episodes of primetime broadcast shows analyzed, an increase in social media buzz led to bigger audiences.

Nielsen said late Monday that it has for the first time found statistical evidence of a correlation between TV ratings for broadcast shows and Twitter activity around the program.

It found that increased social media buzz for a show boosted its ratings in nearly a third of the cases analyzed.

Nielsen’s "Twitter Causation Study" analyzed minute-to-minute live ratings data and tweets for 221 episodes of broadcast primetime shows.

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The study found that an increase in live TV ratings had a statistically significant impact on related Twitter volume in the case of 48 percent of the episodes analyzed. At the same time, the volume of tweets caused "statistically significant changes" in live ratings in 29 percent of the episodes studied.

Nielsen didn't discuss the size of the ratings impact.

"We saw a statistically significant causal influence indicating that a spike in TV ratings can increase the volume of tweets, and, conversely, a spike in tweets can increase tune-in,” said Paul Donato, chief research officer at Nielsen. "This rigorous, research-based approach provides our clients and the media industry as a whole with a better understanding of the interplay between Twitter and broadcast TV viewing."

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Many observers had long thought that higher ratings tend to cause more people to tweet more often, which the study confirmed. "This may be because there are more people available to tweet about a show or because more compelling content drives people to tweet more often," Nielsen said in the summary of its study.

Said Twitter COO Ali Rowghani: "These results substantiate what many of our TV partners have been telling us anecdotally for years: namely, that Twitter drives tune-in, especially for live, linear television programming."

Nielsen promised to study the correlations between tweet volume and ratings further. The recent premiere of Syfy original movie Sharknado, for example, drove much social media activity, but the ratings figures weren't seen as huge numbers.

Twitter: @georgszalai