Social media comment, and in particular the brevity of Twitter, have lent themselves well to showing viewer engagement.
Late last year Twitter TV ratings released their first data, the third territory to do so behind the USA and Italy with Nielsen collating the raw data from Twitter.
Tony Broderick, Twitter’s head of TV partnerships in Australia, says TEN is the first local broadcaster to get on board, seeing instantly how their shows resonate with social media users.
“TEN are the first broadcast partner to sign up to it. The way the ratings system work is kind of like an online dashboard. It provides you with an instant snapshot of conversation, he said.
“So let’s say you’re tuned into the television tonight, you could go onto the product and see all the metrics happening in real time. On top of that there are reports that are generated, kind of like the Overnights.”
In the US all four commercial networks are on board, with a weekly top ten of unique audience and top shows and is expected to be followed here.
“My understanding is Nielsen will probably reveal more publicly available data (once we return to ratings). That could be based on other markets, daily charts or weekly charts. It’s up to them to define how they want to do it in this particular market,” says Broderick.
“It doesn’t replace the official ratings. It offers a nice measurement of engagement that complements it. So an advertiser or network could see that maybe they have similar numbers in terms of Reach, but one shows much more engagement.
“So advertisers can make calls based on both sets of data.”
But is a mention in a tweet necessarily a positive? ABC’s New Years Eve broadcast or Ben Elton’s Live from Planet Earth might suggest otherwise.
“It’s really difficult to measure and something I know Nielsen are looking at positive / negative sentiment. But it’s quite difficult because people can become very engaged about Reality shows but can become quite cynical in parts. The biggest fans have the highest expectations so they may not like certain elements of it. But ultimately they are talking about the show, remaining engaged and tuning in.
“So it’s not a perfect science.”
But there are those who deem it as screen clutter, with the platform yet to be offered as an ‘opt-in / opt-out’ service like Teletext.
Twitter also suits some genres better than others. Reality TV has embraced its 140 characters to reflect national conversation while it is now required-viewing for Q & A.
“It’s being going (on Q & A) for years with a pretty small and lean team that operate that as part of the ABC. The pure volume is really great and I feel like on that particular show it’s not too much, it does add something to the wider audience,” he says.
“They’re now experimenting about how the audience can ask a question from home by tweeting to the account and send a follow-up question.
“A lot of producers and networks don’t feel Drama is the right place for on-air tweets, but we do see some exceptions. In the US they keep their premieres clean but have repeats or marathons where they add social commentary.
“As a general rule you see the spikes in conversations at the beginning and end of the episode, in a commercial break or if there is a big reveal.”
Broderick says #Patrick was trending for weeks after the Offspring character died, with #patricksghost trending during the last series.
Yet there is also discussion about whether Reality shows should be feeding a network-generated hashtag to the audience. Shouldn’t the hashtags be organically created by the audience?
Broderick, who previously worked for FremantleMedia, recalls a deliberately-ambiguous #thatdress hashtag used for Dami Im on The X Factor.
“We felt it could be used in any particular way that the audience wanted, but it created a focus,” he recalls.
“It was a talking point and we knew the audience was going to react, so we gave them that tool to then focus the conversation and have the debate. But I do concede your point. It’s not necessarily the show’s responsibility to say ‘what’ you should say so much as interesting puns to generate the conversation.
“In Reality shows a lot of producers got very excited and there was a lot of content but what I have noticed over the last 18 months is that they have taken the ‘less is more’ approach.
“Now they look for the key moments to create the conversation and save the tweets that really give something. I’m a strong believer that they really shouldn’t just be serving the audience actively engaged in tweeting along, but the passive audience as well. There should be some sort of editorial pay-off, such as a joke or re-emphasising a storyline. There should be something that helps the broader audience too.”