Social media doesn't affect TV

29 April 2014
NEW YORK: The ratings of a TV show may help drive social media activity, but social media activity itself has little impact on those same ratings, new research has claimed.

The findings emerged from an analysis of the coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics by NBC Universal, which held the exclusive media rights for the Games in the US and showed more than 1,500 hours of sports on all media, including broadcast and cable television, the web and mobile.

On average, 21m viewers had watched prime-time coverage on broadcast TV over the 18 days of the event, but just 19% had posted anything about the Games on social media.

In all, there were some 10.6m messages relating to the Winter Olympics on Twitter, posted by 3m unique users and seen by 23m people. Around 20m had posted, commented, shared or liked something related to the Olympics on Facebook and these posts were seen by 150m users.

Alan Wurtzel, head of research at NBC Universal, said the results indicated that social media was "not a game changer yet" when it came to influencing television viewing.

"A lot of people want to show that they are on the cutting edge. One of the things that is on the cutting edge is social media," he said in remarks reported by the Financial Times. "Why wouldn't I want to say to you, 'We have a potent new way in which we can drive ratings'?"

Unfortunately that was not possible. "I am saying the emperor wears no clothes," declared Wurtzel. "It is what it is. These are the numbers."

But Kate Sirkin, global research director at Publicis' Starcom MediaVest Group, a media agency network, suggested that the Games was not typical programming and that dramas or reality TV might show a greater correlation between social media activity and viewing figures.

That interpretation was not supported by earlier research from the Council for Research Excellence, which also found that social media had only a limited impact on what people chose to view.

When asked what their reason was for watching a particular piece of programming, only 1.5% of the fans of existing shows cited social media as a driver. (For more, read Warc's report: How social media and television interact.)

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff
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