The Advent of Social TV: Commercial and Creative Impacts of Using Twitter Activity Metrics Upon What Audiences Now See

Image by Arti Dandhu

“Sensory Overload”, Image by Arti Sandhu

[This post was originally uploaded on July 31, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on December 19, 2015 and then on March 11, 2015.]

July 14, 2014 Post:

Nielsen is a long-established and industry leading firm in measuring, analyzing and reporting upon media deployment, usage and audiences. Their services also include a similar range of sophisticated services concerning consumer behavior and products.

A fascinating new report appeared on their sites Newswire section on June 2, 2014 entitled This TV Season’s Biggest Moments on Twitter that chronologically mapped which US TV shows from September 2013 through May 2014 generated the greatest volume of traffics and postings on Twitter. The categories included:

  • Greatest Reach
  • Most Tweets
  • Greatest Activity and Reach
  • Most Impressions
  • Most Tweets Per Unique
  • Most Tweets and Tweets Per Minute

Each of these data points is clearly explained and includes the names of the shows, their corresponding data generated by these massive amounts of Twitter activity, and the hashtags and handles involved. In a single screen, this data visualization is a terrific example of how to present so much information that is belied by its elegant and informative design.

Moreover, the value of this data must be highly significant in a multitude of ways to, among others, advertisers, entertainment companies, media planners and producers, content strategists and marketers, and demographers in assessing their respective audiences and clients.

December 19, 2014 Update:

For me, the best story told on TV during the 2014 season was – – in a fictional world where “brains” take on an entirely different significance – –  The Walking Dead on AMC in terms of the extraordinary number of tweets about ongoing adventures Sheriff Ricky and the Grimes Gang. This was covered on Nielsen.com on December 15, 2014 in a post entitled Tops of 2014: Social TV.  TWD averaged twice as many tweets as its next competitor in the ongoing series category. As I read scores of TWD tweets on the mid-season finale myself, everyone will miss you, Beth.

March 11, 2015 Update:

We are now experiencing the emergence of what is being called Social TV, a phenomenon where Twitter and other social media traffic and sentiment data and metrics are exerting significant influences upon on-air advertising campaigns, audience perceptions and creative choices. Just to cite another example of this is the contemporaneous two-screen experience audiences can now join on shows such as The Walking Dead.

Scientific support for the relevancy, accuracy and scalability of Twitter data and metrics on individual TV shows continues to grow. Persuasive new evidence was released on March 9, 2015, in a report authored by Nielsen entitled Social TV: A Bellwether for TV Audience Engagement. An informative article on this report was also published in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times entitled Social Study of TV Viewers Backs Twitter’s Claims to Be Barometer of Public Mood by Vindu Goel. I will sum up, annotate and comment on this article and supplement this with a look at the Nielsen report itself. I very highly recommend clicking through and reading both of them in their entirety.

Nielsen used 300 people in a study of their brain activity while they watched eight selected shows in an effort to find the level of correlation to their volume of tweets about the same content. The results showed a significantly close correlation. The Nielsen report contains a concise graph of the data that  visually  charts this point at 79.5%.*

As a result, researchers can now accurately assess the level of a particular show’s “depth of engagement” of its audience with the events as they unfolds on the small screen. Moreover, this is not only for the show itself, but on a more granular level on a scene-by-scene basis. Thus, this study and report reaffirms Twitter’s assertions that its data accurately represents its platform’s real-time engagement of its users in real-time during a show’s broadcast, as well as a show’s “popularity”.

Most importantly, this data and its interpretations can be used to sell ads to advertisers looking to best maximize their expenditures in their efforts to most effectively reach the audiences they are seeking for their  services and products.

Twitter data and metrics can also be used for predicting potential audiences for new shows even before they premiere, according to a report Nielsen released on January 15, 2015 entitled Must See TV: How Twitter Activity Ahead of Fall Season Premieres Could Indicate Success.

Nonetheless, neither Nielsen nor Twitter have addressed the key issue of the degree to which the volume of Twitter traffic actually increase the size of the viewing audience.

Nielson is planning another study to evaluate the impact of Twitter activity concerning TV ads upon the audiences who view them. (Might I suggest starting with this current TV ad about Mountain Dew Kickstart that has been viewed nearly 6.5 million times on YouTube and makes me laugh out loud every time I see it!)

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*   Issues concerning the distinctions between correlation and causation were raised in two recent Subway Fold posts on November 27, 2014 entitled Minting New Big Data Types and Analytics for Investors and then on January 27, 2015 in a post entitled Studies Link Social Media Data with Personality and Health Indicators.

Updates on Recent Posts Re: Music’s Big Data, Deep Learning, VR Movies, Regular Movies’ Effects on Our Brains, Storytelling and, of Course, Zombies

This week has seen the publication of an exciting series of news stories and commentaries that provide a very timely opportunity to update six recent Subway Fold posts. The common thread running through the original posts and these new pieces is the highly inventive mixing, mutating and monetizing of pop culture and science. Please put on your virtual 3-D glasses let’s see what’s out there.

The December 10, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled Is Big Data Calling and Calculating the Tune in Today’s Global Music Market? explored the apps, companies and trends that have become the key drivers in the current global music business. Adding to the big data strategies and implementations for three more major music companies and their rosters of artists was a very informative report in the December 15, 2014 edition of The Wall Street Journal by Hannah Karp entitled Music Business Plays to Big Data’s Beat. (A subscription for the full text required a subscription to WSJonline.com, but the story also appeared in full on Nasdaq.com clickable here.) As described in detail in this report, Universal Music, Warner Music, and Sony Music have all created sophisticated systems to parse numerous data sources and apply customized analytics for planning and executing marketing campaigns.

Next for an alternative and somewhat retro approach, a veteran music retailer named Sal Nunziato wrote a piece on the Op Ed page of The New York Times on the very same day entitled Elegy for the ‘Suits’. He blamed the Internet more than the music labels for the current state of music where “anyone with a computer, a kazoo and an untuned guitar” can release their music  online regardless of its quality. Thus, the ‘suits’ he nostalgically misses were the music company execs who exerted  more controlled upon the quantity and quality of music available to the public.

Likewise covering the tuning up of another major force in today’s online music streaming industry was an August 14, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled Spotify Enhances Playlist Recommendations Processing with “Deep Learning” Technology. This summarized a report about how deep learning technology was being successfully applied to improve the accuracy and responsiveness of Spotify’s recommendation engine. Presenting an even stronger case that you-ain’t-seen-nothing-yet in this field was an engaging analysis of some still largely unseen developments in deep learning posted on December 15, 2014, on Gigaom.com entitled What We Read About Deep Learning is Just the Tip of the Iceberg by Derrick Harris. These include experimental systems being tested by the likes of Google, Facebook and Microsoft. As well, there were a series of intriguing presentations and demos at the recent Neural Information Processing Systems conference held in Montreal. As detailed here with a wealth of supporting links, many of these advanced systems and methods are expected to gain more press and publicity in 2015.

Returning to the here and now at end of 2014, the current release of the movie adaptation of the novel Wild by Cheryl Strayed (Knopf, 2011), has been further formatted into 3-minute supplemental virtual reality movie as reported in the December 15, 2014 edition of The New York Times by Michael Cieply in an article entitled Virtual Reality ‘Wild’ Trek. This fits right in with the developments covered in the December 10, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled A Full Slate of Virtual Reality Movies and Experiences Scheduled at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival as this short film is also scheduled to be presented at the 2015 Sundance festival. Using Oculus and Samsung VR technology, this is an immersive meeting with the lead character, played by actress Reese Witherspoon, while she is hiking in the wilderness. She is quoted as being very pleased with the final results of this VR production.

The next set of analyses and enhancements to our cinematic experience, continuing right along with the September 3, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled Applying MRI Technology to Determine the Effects of Movies and Music on Our Brains, concerns a newly published book that explains the science of how movies affect our brains entitled Flicker: Your Brain on Movies (Oxford University Press, 2014), by Dr. Jeffrey Zacks. The author was interviewed during a fascinating segment of the December 18, 2014 broadcast of The Brian Lehrer Show on WYNC radio. Among other things, he spoke about why audiences cry during movies (even when the films are not very good), sometimes root for the villain, and move to duck out of the way when an object on the screen seems to be coming right at them such as the giant bolder rolling after Indiana Jones at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Much of this is intentionally done by the filmmakers to manipulate audiences into heightened emotional responses to key events as they unfold on the big screen.

Of course, all movie making involves the art and science of storytelling skills as discussed in the November 4, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled Say, Did You Hear the Story About the Science and Benefits of Being an Effective Storyteller?. In a very practical and insightful article in the December 12, 2014 edition of The New York Times by Alina Tugend entitled Storytelling Your Way to a Better Job or a Stronger Start-Up there are some helpful applications for today’s marketplace. As concisely stated in this piece “You need to have a good story.” It describes in detail how there are now consultants, charging meaningful fees, with new approaches and techniques who assist people in improving their skills in order to become more persuasive storytellers. Among others interviewed for this story was Dr. Paul J. Zak, who wrote the recent article on The Harvard Business Review Blog which was the basis for the November 4th Subway Fold post. It concludes with five helpful pointers to spin a compelling yarn for your listeners.

Finally, the best story told on TV during the 2014 season was – – in a fictional world where brains take on an entirely different significance – –  The Walking Dead on AMC in terms of the extraordinary number of tweets about ongoing adventures Sheriff Rick and the Grimes Gang. This was covered on Nielsen.com on December 15, 2014 in a post entitled Tops of 2014: Social TV.  TWD averaged twice as many tweets as its next competitor in the ongoing series category. This follows up directly with the July 31, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled New Analytical Twitter Traffic Report on US TV Shows During the 2013 – 2014 Season.  As I read scores of TWD tweets on the mid-season finale myself, everyone will miss you, Beth.

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As a major fan of TWD, I would like to take the opportunity add my own brief review about the tragic events in Episode 5.8:

I think that in the end, Beth was a form of avatar for the entire show. She traveled many miles from lying on her bed in Season 2 completely unable to function and progressing to Season 5 as a realist concerning herself and the group’s survival. Rather than resigning herself to be held a captive ward in the hospital, she was determined to escape no matter what and was so proud of helping Jonah to escape.

She awakened and arose to be a survivor and a committed member of the Grimes Gang, just as everyone else has done during the past five years. That is, Beth’s journey reflects the entire group’s journey. She, and the Grimes Gang, up to this point have survived all of the threats they faced and endured all of the horrors they have seen. They will all survive but this death with have more serious repercussions than perhaps any other death up until this point. Maggie, Daryl, Rick, Carol and Carl, the core of the GG, will not soon recover from this.

What I still do not understand is why, given that she was finally free in the hospital’s hallway, did she jeopardize her life by going after the lead officer with a scissors. It seemed to be somewhat at odds with Beth’s character as someone who had survived until now on her own determination and close bond with the group. She had nothing to gain by such a reckless act in the middle of a very volatile situation. Was it a sacrifice to save Jonah? Did she realize that the cop was holding a gun at that point? Was she just overtaken by the motivation that desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures?

Consider, too, that she was Herschel’s daughter and her character reflected what she had learned from him: 1. Both learned to see things differently and adapted when the circumstances changed. 2. Both faced sacrifices and danger with great dignity. (Recall Herschel’s acknowledging grin towards Rick right before the Governor murdered the elder of the survivors, and then Beth’s defiant grin when she saw that Jonah had escaped.) 3. Both were resilient insofar as Herschel adapting to the loss of his leg and Beth recovering from her father’s murder. 4. Both sought to comfort others as Herschel stayed with the flu patients and Beth finally drew Daryl out about his terrible family life. Recall also, the three very effective times during her history on the show when Beth’s singing gave great comfort to the others. Indeed, she was a saintly figure but as this story arc wore on, her demise seemed to be foretold.

TWD remains, for me, an absolutely brilliant show in terms of its characters, narrative and presentation.