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There’s Something About Methodology: How to Deliver Total Social TV Measurement

3 minute read | April 2016

There’s no denying the relationship between TV viewing and social media.

And as a constant companion to TV audiences, social media has become a decisive way for TV networks, agencies and advertisers to engage audiences and derive notable value in the process. For social data to be reasonably acted upon, though, it needs to be collected in a trustworthy way, grounded in a sound methodology that reflects true consumer behavior.

Getting a handle on the countless ways viewers use social media to interact with programming isn’t an easy proposition—especially when programs air live. The complexity of language peaks at those times when audiences watch “together” in real time and fans comment about on-screen events and talent. Although the unique nature of live social viewing is evident in consumer behavior, it has not been established that a methodology based on linear TV – a term used to refer to live TV programming – is necessary to precisely measure relevant social TV activity.

With that pursuit in mind, Nielsen, whose methodology is uniquely inclusive of the linear TV schedule, analyzed 79 programs on English- and Spanish-language broadcast and cable networks.

We sought to assess the role that the linear TV schedule plays in measuring Twitter TV activity. The study generated two key findings:

  • Twitter activity would be significantly undercounted if linear terms, such as actors’ names and handles, were not used for measurement during live TV.
  • These same linear terms would bring in a significant amount of irrelevant activity when programs are not airing live.


At the onset of the study, we looked at the role of linear terms in measuring live Twitter TV activity. The results showed that when linear terms—for instance the main character’s personal Twitter account—were not used to measure activity about a program as it aired live, Twitter activity for series programs was undercounted by an average of 37%. Said another way, close to 40% of the live discussion would be missed if those linear terms weren’t being used to capture Twitter TV conversation.


The study also set out to determine how reliable linear terms are in bringing in relevant activity. The results of the study found that when a TV program is airing live, 94% of the conversation measured by these linear terms was relevant to the program.

While the study clearly indicated the relevance of linear terms for measuring Twitter TV during live airings, it also evidenced the irrelevance of the same terms outside of the live airings. In fact, the study found that, outside of the live airing, 81% of Twitter TV activity measured using these same linear terms was not relevant to the aired program.

So, why does this matter?

In order for social data to be truly actionable, it needs to be trusted measurement, based on a sound methodology that reflects consumer behavior. The findings of the study established two requirements for social TV measurement: (1) linear terms are critical to measuring total social response to live TV, and (2) linear terms should not be applied for measurement of social TV activity outside of live airings.

With measurement built on this validated methodology, TV networks can understand their audiences and the success of their social efforts. At the same time, agencies and advertisers can confidently incorporate a social TV signal into the media planning and buying process to maximize earned media for brands.


The analysis used in this study to determine the average share of live program activity for one week of data measured by linear terms included 79 series program episodes on English- and Spanish-language broadcast and cable networks that aired between December 2015 and January 2016. Live program activity is measured from three hours before through three hours after the live program airing, local time. A subset of 10 of those programs was analyzed to understand relevancy of linear terms during and outside of the live airing for that week. Nielsen Social applies this methodology at scale for 260+ English- and Spanish-language networks to deliver linear and 24/7 measurement.

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