As the shift to online TV continues, the methods used to produce TV ratings have had to adjust significantly. Nielsen's ratings have been the standard for quite some time now, but more and more people have moved away from watching a show exactly when it airs, preferring to catch it later on any number of streaming services or using a DVR. As such, the company has had to develop a few different categories, such as L+3 and L+7 (viewers in the first three and seven days after a live showing, respectively) to take these behaviors into account, and even those can't fully capture a show's popularity. That's why Nielsen is also building out its social TV ratings to track what people say on Facebook.
If this sounds somewhat like an invasion of privacy, don't worry: all that's happening is that Facebook is providing aggregated data on what shows are mentioned and when, exclusively using public posts. That means you can still gush to your friend about how much you love that show everyone else hates without anyone knowing, as long as you keep it to your messages.
With NBC recently hiring a tech audio company to drum up ratings on Netflix shows — the streaming giant never divulges this information — viewership numbers are clearly becoming more and more important. Not necessarily because they're a direct indicator of success, but because they can at least provide a high-level understanding of what's resonating with audiences. With an emphasis on social mentions of TV shows, networks and creators will be able to pin down what's generating buzz versus what's not.
Nielsen already takes Twitter conversations into account, but when it rolls out measurements that include Facebook, it'll rename its Twitter TV Ratings "Social Content Ratings." The addition is notable not only because it makes a one-platform metric more diverse, but also because of sheer size — Facebook has roughly 1.5 billion active users, whereas Twitter has just more than 300 million. That's five times the number of users with their own tastes in TV to peek at.
It's not exactly clear what can and should be done with the information that a certain show has massive buzz surrounding it on social media, but there's no doubt networks and creators would rather have this information than not. For example, the burst of rage that true crime documentary Making a Murderer conjured up online isn't just a reflection of outrage over flaws in the U.S. justice system, but also perhaps a signal that the public wants more documentaries and shows that reveal little-known truths. Similarly, the level of conversation surrounding Jessica Jones right after it was released might suggest that TV watchers crave stronger, more complex female leads. It shouldn't take advanced metric systems to realize that TV can be more groundbreaking and diverse, but at least there's now data to back up decision-making that provides it.
So start talking about your favorite shows and what you want to see more of via Facebook — it could actually have an impact on where TV goes from here.
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