We can all agree that Nielsen’s model of ranking television is woefully dated. This antiquated notion of sampling individual families and asking them to log what they watch and when they watch it. All of this fantastic technology, you’d think by now there would be a way for users to opt-in to a piece of software which can be run as an app on a DVR or TIVO. Alas, we still don’t have that, but Nielsen is trying to take some steps to track the popularity of content moving forward.
Their preferred platform to watch? Twitter.
Now I’m not saying this is a bad idea. Twitter has shown a terrific aptitude for being culturally relevant down to the instant news might hit the internet. Those momentary and temporary interactions are great for surveying a general sense of a trend, but the biggest issue in social media metrics is tracking actual engagement. Often when using Twitter as benchmark we can only confidently talk about “potential impressions”. I have a couple thousand followers on Twitter, so when I tweet, there’s the POTENTIAL for a couple thousand people to encounter my message. There is, however, no concrete way to determine how many of my followers stopped to actually read my tweet.
Which is why Nielsen’s announcement is so perplexing to me. My DVR knows what I watch and when I watch it, even when I’m watching live TV. It knows how long I watched a show, exactly when I turned it off, if I returned to finish a show, and whether I wanted to keep it stored on my drive. It also is able to serve me recommendations based on what I’ve watched in the past. If we’re looking for relevance, for actual metrics on TV viewing, this to me would be a more appropriate first line to partner up with.
Neilsen’s notion that they can derive viewership based on authored tweets, and extrapolate that out to people who aren’t tweeting but still watching TV seems even less accurate than their current method of tracking viewership.
I get it. Twitter is hip right now. But the other issue is one of institution. Neilsen still looks like it’s operating with the notion that once a system is constructed that operating within that structure will provide meaningful results. The way communication is generated online evolves on a daily basis, and each individual network has it’s own etiquette which also adapts to changing trends. Whats vogue today might not be tomorrow, and viewership probably changes by platform. Meaning, you’ll be likely to see some subtle yet unique trends in viewership moving from Twitter to Facebook to Google Plus to Reddit, etc.
Combining that data with location becomes vital, not only the physical presence of where a person was when watching, but whether it came from terrestrial “air”, cable, or some web portal like Hulu or Netflix. Decisions are made every day on renewing or cancelling shows based on data generated by services like Nielsen, but I’m not sure their new strategy here is really going to make them more relevant…
In light of their upcoming IPO though, this is fantastic news for Twitter.
Read Nielsen’s full statement after the jump. Continue reading Nielsen, Twitter, and making sense of changing metrics