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Nielsen To Use Facebook And Twitter In New Social TV Ratings


You know about the personalized ads that follow you on Facebook and show up in your Twitter feed. They're based on the data you generate online. Well, now there's one more way that data will be sliced and diced. Nielsen calls itself the company that counts what people watch, listen to and buy, and now it will be doing that by tracking your online conversations about TV shows. It's already looking at Twitter, and soon it will start on Facebook and Instagram. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans tells us what that means.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: When it comes to scripted TV shows, Nielsen found one program drew the biggest unique audience on Twitter last year - AMC's "The Walking Dead."


DEGGANS: According to Nielsen, on average, 4 million people saw tweets about every new episode of "The Walking Dead" last year. Nielsen has gathered data for three years on the conversation about TV shows on Twitter. Now the company says it will soon tabulate how much people talk about TV shows on Facebook and Instagram, too, combining those figures into something they call social content ratings. Sean Casey, president of Nielsen Social, said last year, people tweeted 800 million times about television shows.

SEAN CASEY: So this is, like, a big consumer phenomena - that when people watch TV now, they're just not watching TV. They're also watching with a second screen.

DEGGANS: Yeah, people are tweeting while they're watching. Sports programming, for instance, was 3 percent of TV programming last year, but Casey says it was 50 percent of the conversation about TV shows on Twitter. Nielsen's top 10 list of shows on Twitter for last week included live events like the Democratic and Republican debates. Casey says that to date, the industry's still working to understand how friends and family talk about TV shows on Facebook and Instagram. He said that for TV networks selling time to advertisers, it's a way to suggest that a show has added value beyond who watches it when it airs.

CASEY: Brands should advertise in highly social programs if they are interested in those programming - those programs driving buzz around their brands.

DEGGANS: In other words, if advertisers have a product that could use some buzz in social media, like a hit song or a new website, they should advertise in shows that have a lot of social media buzz. Nielsen won't see individual posts, but Tim Baysinger, who's a digital media reporter for Adweek magazine, says there's value in seeing Facebook data that isn't completely public.

TIM BAYSINGER: Unlike Twitter, Facebook isn't usually to see what people are posting. I mean, you have to, you know, be connected to that person to see if they're posting about a show, whereas twitter - you know, it's much easier to see the conversation on Twitter than on Facebook.

DEGGANS: Baysinger doesn't see Nielsen's announcement as revolutionary. There other smaller companies that gather data on social media and TV, and Baysinger warns against drawing too many conclusions about the overall audience.

BAYSINGER: You know, I think the problem with a platform like Twitter is that it's in this big bubble. And people think, well, something's popular on Twitter, it must be popular with the whole world, and it's - you know, Twitter's still just a small percentage of the overall population.

DEGGANS: Nielsen says the Facebook data will be available to clients by late spring or early summer, with Instagram data coming a bit later. Eric Deggans, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.