When Twitter impacts TV ratings the most [study]

By Cory Bergman 

First on Lost Remote: Nielsen released an early glimpse today into its research project measuring Twitter’s impact on TV ratings. As we reported back in October, Nielsen’s first study — which did not include Twitter data — revealed that a 9% increase in buzz volume (blogs, boards and public Facebook updates) corresponded to a 1% increase in ratings among the 18-49 year-old demo. But in recent weeks, Twitter has provided Nielsen with loads of data to measure its impact on ratings.

On a conference call today, Nielsen’s Radha Subramanyam showed a couple slides mapping Twitter’s impact on ratings against time. While their earlier study found that social buzz can impact ratings weeks in advance, Twitter’s biggest impact is closest to airtime (above).

Comparing Twitter’s impact to other social buzz (above), Twitter shows the most impact on the day of air — even outpacing the impact of blogs, boards and Facebook’s public comments, “which makes sense, because Twitter is a very immediate experience,” Subramanyam said.

As with any social-ratings research, there are caveats. First of all, the project doesn’t include sentiment — whether people are raving about or ridiculing a show — just volume. Subramanyam said that true sentiment analysis is complex. “We’re not at a point where we can quantify that in terms of ratings,” she said.

This analysis did not include sports or TV news, but Nielsen has plans to measure both.

And then there’s the correlation-causality question. “I believe there is something real going here, but I’m not going as far as claiming direct causality,” Subramanyam explained, adding that every brand and TV show may see difference results. But overall, “social changes everything,” she said, encouraging TV executives to invest in social across the board. Of course, Nielsen is quickly ramping up products for TV brands, agencies and advertisers to use to measure and optimize their social effectiveness. After a bit of a lag, it seems that Nielsen is jumping into social TV with both feet.

This is just a peek at Nielsen’s overall Twitter project, with more data promised in the next several weeks, including breaking out Twitter’s impact by genre.