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Study questions impact of social buzz on TV ratings

The media buyer Optimedia US has released a study that concludes that a show’s advance buzz doesn’t predict its ratings performance. The study measured Tweets, Facebook likes, Google searches and Klout scores ahead of a show’s premiere. It found the top 5 new shows in buzz — X-Factor, Playboy Club, New Girl, Whitney and Charlie’s Angels — haven’t necessarily translated into ratings.

The study, published in the WSJ but not readily available on Optimedia’s site (we’ve asked for a copy), seems limited to the Fall season’s shows. Optimedia exec Greg Kahn said that buzz is likely a better measure of the network’s marketing efforts than a gauge of how many people will watch. Some shows are naturally more social than others prior to air — like Playboy Club — and there’s a growing roar of social efforts around television that’s not as impactful as before.

“Now, every show has a Twitter handle and a Facebook page,” Kahn said. “Consumers are getting savvier and can see that conversation doesn’t necessarily mean that it is worth investing their time in.”

In a way, Optimedia has a point, but it can be dangerously misconstrued. “As this new ‘Social TV’ industry rapidly grows and evolves, I think we as an industry should be careful about using our data to make simplistic interpretations,” explains BlueFin Labs VP Tom Thai in a follow-up blog post on the study. “Some people read the WSJ article and felt that it was a blow to Social TV. I don’t think so at all.” Thai pointed to this closing line in the WSJ story, which he felt was a fair summary:

Ad executives say that while the data isn’t necessarily a good predictor of which shows are going to be popular, it is a valuable tool to evaluate how engaged people are when they watch TV shows and give them new framework for designing ad campaigns based on the data.

That engagement data will create an immense amount of new value in TV, evolving the binary TV rating into a more meaningful evaluation of television viewing.

Like the Nielsen study that found that social buzz does offer a ratings lift, the Optimedia study is a limited view into a new, rapidly-evolving space that’s difficult to measure in old television terms. Of course a well-executed social media campaign — that achieves reach and frequency — helps drive ratings, just like radio ads and billboards. But it’s nearly impossible to measure its specific contribution, and the more everyone’s doing it, the less impact it has.

At last week’s Social TV Summit, both Twitter and Facebook took credit for moving the ratings needle, but still, that influence is anecdotal. That said, I’m very intrigued about the new Nielsen data that’s coming soon, according to Twitter’s Chloe Sladden who said they’ve just provided the TV ratings company with a big download of data.

What are your thoughts about efforts to quantify social’s impact on ratings?

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