Inside Nielsen's decision to expand its social TV ratings

Nielsen last week announced that early this year it would expand its Twitter TV Ratings to include Facebook, and then Instagram; the new ratings system will be called “Nielsen Social Content Ratings.”

There is really no other way to put it: this is bad news for Twitter.

Twitter has enjoyed an exclusive social TV measurement relationship with the company whose ratings system still drives the majority of all TV ad buys. Now, it will share this relationship with Facebook, a company that is not only has four times as many active users but has also made major investments – from the recently released Sports Stadium to the new tools it gave broadcasters at MIPCOM – to capture more of the TV conversation.

Advertisers have already flocked to Facebook to spend awareness, branding, and direct response budgets; the new ratings mean that Facebook will likely start to get a lot more of advertisers’ social TV budgets too.

For more on the expanded ratings, what they capture, and how this will impact Twitter, we spoke with Nielsen Social president, Sean Casey:

Found Remote: If the aim is to provide a comprehensive social TV picture, why only expand with Facebook - why not the Facebook-owned Instagram, Tumblr, or even Kik?

Sean Casey: The aim for Nielsen is to provide a comprehensive social TV picture for the social platforms that matter the most to their businesses. Nielsen is committed to measuring total social conversation for programs, adapting to changing consumer behaviors and the needs of the industry. Following discussions with clients, Nielsen will measure Facebook and Twitter at the launch of Social Content Ratings, followed by Instagram. Social Content Ratings will not be limited to measurement of only these services.

FR: How difficult is it to capture the social conversation taking place after a show's original airing? How did you solve for that?

Casey: Nielsen recently expanded our measurement of social activity for programming to include conversation taking place on a 24/7 basis in addition to measurement of activity during linear airings. The challenge in measuring social activity for programs around-the-clock is in making sure that measurement of conversation is precise. In other words, not pulling in irrelevant conversation or missing volume due to the unique ways in which consumers discuss a program or its characters and talent. There is a myriad of ways that consumers interact with programming and it is always changing. Nielsen’s methodology for Social Content Ratings is built to adapt to those changes incorporating both a methodology crafted to the unique ways people talk about TV when its airing and when its not to ensure the most comprehensive and exact measurement for all programs across all platforms.

FR: How will this impact the relationship Twitter has with advertisers based on their exclusive relationship to date?

Casey: Nielsen continues to have an agreement in place with Twitter to measure TV-related conversation on Twitter. The agreement has been expanded to also include measurement of conversation on Facebook and Instagram. With linear and 24/7 measurement from Nielsen across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the industry will have unprecedented visibility into the total amount of social activity taking place across platforms and the unique characteristics of conversation on each platform. This will lead to an understanding of the different ways that consumers engage across different social networks and will help drive insights for networks, agencies, and advertisers around the relationship social media behavior has with other key measures, such as viewership and digital traffic.

FR: From the proof of concept you must have done with Facebook, was there anything in particular that stood out that you can share?

Casey: Social Content Ratings are slated for commercial availability in the first half of 2016. We look forward to sharing insights related to the expanding ratings at that time.

FR: Anything else?

Casey: Social Content Ratings will measure Facebook and Twitter conversation using an independent methodology in order to provide the industry with standardized third-party social media measurement for programming. This methodology has been developed and refined over the past 5 years, first at SocialGuide, which was acquired by Nielsen, and then at Nielsen with the delivery of Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings to the industry. Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings today measure the total earned conversation occurring around TV programs on Twitter. With Social Content Ratings, Nielsen will enhance its methodology to enable measurement across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, allowing for the first time, apples-to-apples comparison of consumer behavior across these leading social platforms.

Nielsen’s Social Content Ratings will be the only social TV ratings with direct access to aggregate, anonymous totals of earned conversation on Facebook, excluding that on Messenger. On Facebook, in addition to engagement with “owned" posts from TV networks and brands, a lot of conversations take place just between family and friends. This “earned” response on Facebook is what the industry has not been able to measure before and what Social Content Ratings will measure for the first time. In order to deliver this measurement to the industry, Nielsen will get aggregate, anonymous data from Facebook in full compliance with consumer privacy. We’re excited to bring this measurement to the market in the first half of this year.

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