Commercial Breaks Aren’t Twitter Breaks

Nielsen SocialGuide report says only 30 percent of TV tweets are sent in ad time

While Twitter is rapidly changing the way we watch live television, a new study suggests that the social media giant isn’t necessarily having a corrosive effect on commercial deliveries.

According to Nielsen’s SocialGuide service, the heaviest Twitter activity appears to be happening during real-time programming minutes and not commercial breaks. After analyzing data culled from 59 broadcast and cable programs, SocialGuide concluded that nearly three-quarters (70 percent) of all airtime tweets were sent during the actual content.

Only three of 10 tweets are posted during commercial minutes. If nothing else, this suggests that consumers generally do not have their eyes glued to their Twitter feeds during the ad breaks.

The volume of Twitter activity that occurs during the ad pods is a direct function of the number of commercial minutes in a given program, according to SocialGuide. In other words, when the spot load is light, the share of tweets issued during the breaks is also light. By the same token, when the programming is weighed down by multiple spots, the volume of tweets sent in commercial time rises proportionately.   

While SocialGuide examined a “pretty broad mix” of programming (sports, comedy, drama and unscripted), CEO Andrew Somosi did not disclose the titles of the shows that were evaluated for the purposes of the study.

“Going into this, we didn’t know what we’d see,” Somosi said. “It turns out that in some of the more compelling programs there are spikes in Twitter activity that coincide with significant plot moments. But as far as there being spikes during the commercials, that’s generally not the case.”

The SocialGuide study arrives on the eve of the launch of the “Nielsen Twitter TV Rating,” an initiative designed to further marketers’ understanding of real-time engagement with TV and second-screen apps. Commercial availability of the new metric is slated to jibe with the start of the 2013-14 broadcast season.

Per Twitter, 32 million Americans in 2012 posted on the site while watching TV. Last month, Nielsen released a study suggesting that the volume of tweets related to a given broadcast “caused significant changes in live TV ratings” 29 percent of the time.

Along with serving as a bellwether of sorts for viewer engagement, Somosi said that the Nielsen-Twitter partnership should help TV advertisers “to better deliver concurrent or follow-up commercial messages on another platform.”

As brands continue to try and wrap their heads around the significance of reaching viewers in real time, the initial results of such immediate second-screen messaging has been decidedly mixed. The Nielsen-Twitter rating could go a long way toward enabling marketers to make smarter follow-up decisions during live events.