John Burbank, Nielsen Online
For years, it has been assumed that home internet usage would cannibalize live television viewing, but there's something interesting happening between social networking and live television. Could it be that what Pete Blackshaw termed "telecommunities" - people simultaneously watching live television programs and chatting in real time with an online network of like-minded fans - will gain scale and give consumers a reason to stick with live viewing?
Let's look at what happened during the Oscars.
During this year's broadcast, we used Nielsen's "Convergence Panel" -- a sample of homes in which we measure both television and Internet in the same households -- to monitor the people in our panel who were simultaneously following the Oscars on live television and over the Internet. We saw some very impressive numbers. Of course, it's important to note that the base sizes for this research are small - in the dozens of users, not the hundreds -- so we can't draw truly scientific conclusions from the data. That said, we did observe some interesting directional trends:
Additionally, we estimate that more than 100,000 messages were sent via Twitter during the broadcast - that's more than 400 message per minute, or nearly 7 per second.
What were people talking about? From my personal observations of Tweets during the broadcast, it was just what you'd expect if you had a living room filled with thousands of your closest friends. Comments ranged from the snarky ("OMFG when did SJP get a boob job?????") to the gushing ("My faves from the Oscars - Kate<3, Penn, Ledger's win and his darling family...I shed tears, I won't lie.") Some directed to the broadcaster ("Dear CBS: Next time something big like, oh The #oscars is on, RESCHEDULE your shows! I'm sure many would LOVE to watch Amazing Race now!") and others regarding the advertising ("after watching a billion diet coke commercials during the oscars, i caved in and got a can") Interestingly, Tweets came in from all over the world in a range of languages - a true world wide event.
The really interesting thing was that to be part of the telecommunity, you had to experience the conversation in real time with the broadcast. At one point I paused the program to say goodnight to my kids - when I came back and starting viewing where I had left off, the Twitter comments were all out of sync with the broadcast. I immediately jumped forward to the live broadcast so I could keep up with the conversation. If you watched the program on DVR on Monday - forget it! - the telecommunity had disappeared and you'd be left to watch this very social program, all by yourself. How sad.
While there is still a lot to learn about the interaction of social networking and TV, it's clear that there is opportunity for programmers and advertisers to leverage telecommunities to drive audience participation with both the programs and the advertising. And it doesn't have to be just live programming such as awards shows and sporting events. Any show with a deeply loyal fan base could drive live viewing and deeper engagement through these telecommunities.
As social networking because more pervasive, we will continue to study its impact on television and advertising. Learn more about how social networking is expanding its global reach.