SVG Digital Perspective: Social TV Behavior is Surging. Shouldn’t We Be Measuring It Properly?

By Brian Ring, Contributing Editor

After a painful slog through interactive TV in the early aughts, and a more recent boom-and-bust in second-screen apps, it’s now clear that a growing portion of TV viewers are habitually using social media to interact with TV.

VIEW: The SocialTV Index (3rd Edition) by Ring Digital

VIEW: The SocialTV Index (3rd Edition) by Ring Digital

In 2013, there were 1 billion tweets around TV broadcasts in the U.S. alone (Nielsen SocialGuide, 2013). That’s a big shift. It’s been underway for a long time. But how big? How many TV viewers engage with live TV using social media?

Unfortunately, we still don’t really know. And in part, that’s because the sharpest guy in the world on this topic sold his company to Twitter.

But before we get to that, let’s review some recent data on the topic.

Earlier this month, my firm published the 3rd volume of the SocialTV Index tracking survey. To my knowledge, it’s the only tracking survey covering the emergence of social TV behavior over time and across social networks.

How credible is our method? Online surveys have greatly improved in recent years. In May, polling upstart SurveyMonkey raised the credibility of online methods by accurately calling the U.K. General Election, something no other poll did.

Sample sizes are a longer discussion, but with over 1,064 respondents answering our primary question, the top-line results are credible. We use Google Consumer Surveys and the responses have reasonably tight confidence intervals.

Here is the core question we ask:

Have you ever used social media to vote, post, share, or comment about something on TV?
In our August 2015 survey, this generated a “Yes” amongst 29% of respondents. (At a confidence interval of 95%, the range would be between 25.1% and 33.2%.)

Multiplying the U.S. Internet population of 266 million users by 29% yields my headline: An estimated 77 million TV viewers have engaged in social TV. This was up 4.4% from a year ago. 

We also asked respondents which social platforms they use.

Facebook has dominated the list from the first run and it continues to rise. Eighty percent of respondents said they used Facebook, up from 70.4% last year.

Notably, we saw an unexpected rise in the popularity of YouTube as a platform for TV-related engagement. YouTube moved up from 6.3% to 14.5% in one year, a change of 130%.

This suggests TV networks and shows are increasingly prompting viewers to interact with YouTube channels in addition to Twitter and Facebook. If the king of Web videos begins to hold sway in the world of broadcast TV, a new set of market dynamics may be afoot.

Despite these and other insights, our tracking survey is not a measurement platform upon which monetary transactions can be based. To grow the benefits of social TV, we need a single, robust measurement of data across all major platforms.

Why doesn’t this exist today?

To answer that, we need to go back to the sharpest guy in the world on this topic, an MIT professor named Deb Roy. Dr. Roy’s Ted Talk entitled The Birth of a Word was published in March of 2011 – and it’s an incredible resource for understanding social TV behavior and measurement.

The video starts with a fascinating MIT Media Lab study illustrating how babies acquire language. It ends by wandering into powerful data visualizations on the intersection of people, social media, and TV viewing. At 12 minutes in, you’ll turn into a social TV evangelist, just like I did.

Dr. Roy’s work in advanced semantic analysis of TV and social media became a startup called Bluefin Labs. Twitter acquired Bluefin Labs for $90 million in February 2013. Eight months later, leveraging the Bluefin Labs team, Twitter and Nielsen launched the Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings.

The Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings are a huge step forward. The work of Deb Roy is inspiring. The research put out by the old Bluefin team is still today cutting-edge. But as it turns out, the arrangement between Twitter and Nielsen is exclusive. And as a result, we do not have a single, cross-platform measurement for social TV.

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