Twitter Inc. users, sending status updates in 140-character bursts on the social-networking site, can increase television ratings by sharing their thoughts while a show is on air, researcher Nielsen found.
After analyzing more than 200 episodes of prime-time television programs, Nielsen determined that a surge in the number of tweets about a show increased its ratings almost a third of the time. The reverse is also true: The more people tuning in, the more usage there is on Twitter.
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The study marks the first time Nielsen has established a direct link between Twitter activity and TV use, potentially helping the social-networking site attract more marketing dollars. While the ad industry continues to rely on TV viewers, broadcasters are trying to keep consumers who are flocking to the Internet. Twitter, as part of its bid to reach $1 billion in sales by 2014, has already capitalized on its users' overlap with TV audiences.
Chief Executive Officer Dick Costolo expanded a service last month that lets companies target users who tweet about the shows they're watching. Advertisers also can augment their TV commercials by reaching the same audiences via Twitter, helping reinforce their message. Marketers typically look for ways to reach consumers multiple times within a given period, a common advertising tactic known as frequency targeting.
The study comes before Nielsen's forthcoming "Twitter TV Rating," a new metric that will start showing up next to traditional TV ratings in the second half of the year. The added figures will show how many people were tweeting about a particular program, helping both advertisers and programmers understand Twitter's effect on a show. Nielsen is already providing data to some of its network clients.
The Nielsen study found that Twitter chatter had a greater impact on certain TV genres. Tweets around reality programming influenced ratings for 44 percent of episodes. Comedy shows benefited from Twitter usage 37 percent of the time. Sports programs got a boost 28 percent of the time, while drama shows were affected 18 percent of the time.
Even so, smaller dramas such as ABC Family's "Pretty Little Liars" have benefited from a Twitter-using audience. The show garnered more than 1.6 million Twitter comments around last year's season finale, part of an effort by parent company Walt Disney Co. to help drive viewership.
Twitter, based in San Francisco, has staked a large part of its future growth on convincing advertisers and TV programmers of its influence over common viewing habits, akin to a virtual water cooler. As part of that strategy, Twitter acquired data and analytics firm Bluefin Labs for about $100 million earlier this year to analyze Web discussions generated by TV programs.
Twitter has also brokered partnerships with major TV programmers, including Walt Disney's ESPN; Viacom Inc.'s MTV and Nickelodeon; and Time Warner Inc., owner of TNT, TBS and CNN. The agreements let Twitter stream videos on its site and split the resulting ad revenue with the networks, a person familiar with the matter said earlier this year.
Twitter's tack on television differs from that of Facebook Inc., which is looking to siphon away some of the ad dollars spent on TV networks by planning to offer TV-style commercials, people familiar with the matter said last month.
Twitter is working directly with TV networks to help increase viewing as well as brokering new ad partnerships in which both the social network and TV programmers can benefit from new promotions.
The Nielsen study goes beyond an earlier analysis from the measurement firm that highlighted the significant correlation between Twitter usage and TV viewing. The new study takes that finding a step further by concluding Twitter can directly increase a TV show's audience.
"These results substantiate what many of our TV partners have been telling us anecdotally for years: namely, that Twitter drives tune-in, especially for live, linear television programming," Ali Rowghani, Twitter's chief operating officer, said in a statement accompanying the Nielsen study.