Twitter and Live TV—The Connection, or Not

4.3.2014 »
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Ever catch yourself checking and posting on Twitter & Facebook much more frequently when watching an "event" or live TV? Sometimes this frenzy can be predicted, but it's usually up to chance, leaving advertisers perplexed.

Ellen DeGeneres’s famous Twitter selfie

Marketers once looked ahead to a future where television and Twitter converged into an integrated, shared experience—with tweets responding to television shows in real time and creating a clear vision of where, why, and how to advertise. But, as reported in a recent Ad Age article, that hasn’t happenedthough there are some clear exceptions.

What we do see is tremendous engagement, and corresponding activity on Twitter, to TV events—from awards shows like the Oscars and the Golden Globes (and their red carpet lead-ins) to sporting events like the Super Bowl and NCAA’s March Madness

all of which generate massive amounts of Twitter traffic (and, with Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres’s epic Twitter selfie, actually broke Twitter (although we’ve all seen the Fail Whale and know it isn’t that unusual, but I digress).

On the other hand, TV dramas and comedies don’t generate much second-screen engagement while they’re airing: users are engaged with the content rather than the sense of an event. I don’t tweet about #personofinterest while I’m watching, because I’m busy trying to follow what’s going on.

The exception is when TV crosses over from program to event, where users are as engaged with the occasion as with the content.

The final episode of “Breaking Bad” generated a record-breaking 1.24MM tweets during its US airing, and the most recent season finale of “The Walking Dead” generated similar volume. These are special occasions for the show’s fans, and ones they’re highly engaged in and want to share with others.

In comparison, this year’s Super Bowl was a blowout, and didn’t leave audiences much to talk about or engage with (other than the commercials). While the TV audience grew 3.5% (to 112MM), Twitter traffic was down 3%, to 25.3MM.

Twitter activity doesn’t correspond to TV audience growth—much as Twitter would like for it to.

Instead, it maps much more closely to audience engagement, which is unfortunately a lot harder to predict. It makes sense, but it makes buying and selling Twitter advertising that much harderand calls for new models and new insights that more closely map to the way people interact, engage, and respond. It’s a tall order, but that’s what makes it fun, right?

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