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You know how Twitter is supposed to be TV’s friend?

Things look a little less congenial today.

That’s after a pointed article in the Financial Times, where a top NBC executive says that Twitter’s most important selling point to the TV industry — “We’ll deliver eyeballs to your shows” — hasn’t panned out.

That’s a red flag for Twitter, which has been trying to create a symbiosis with the TV Industrial Complex for years, and is selling that link to investors as well.

But there’s no there there, says NBCUniversal* research chief Alan Wurtzel.

He comes to that conclusion after looking at the effect of Twitter, as well as Facebook, on NBCU’s ratings during the Winter Olympics. Wurtzel saw lots of chatter about Sochi on social media, but none of that seemed to translate to increased viewership.

The crucial quotes from Wurtzel, relayed by the FT’s Emily Steel: “Why wouldn’t I want to say to you, ‘We have a potent new way in which we can drive ratings?’” But “it just isn’t true,” he added. “I am saying the emperor wears no clothes. It is what it is. These are the numbers.”

The FT piece has plenty of caveats, and notes that it may be possible that Twitter is increasing eyeballs for programming that reaches smaller audiences — it’s easier to have more impact when you’re starting with a lower base.

And Twitter has previously pointed to research from Nielsen that said that in some cases, it thinks that Twitter has some effect — though it couldn’t say how much — on ratings.

But bear in mind that until now NBCU, like many other TV networks, has been an enthusiastic partner with Twitter. Last year the programmer and its parent company Comcast announced a “strategic partnership” that was supposed to tie the pay TV provider and its networks directly into Twitter, by giving Comcast subscribers the ability to record shows directly from Twitter, and even watch them using the service.

“We want to make the conversation on Twitter lead to consumption,” said Sam Schwartz, Comcast’s chief business development officer, at the time.

The best spin on this for Twitter (as well as Facebook, which has been playing catch-up when it comes to pitching itself to TV) is that there’s no reason for the TV guys to stop playing nicely with Twitter: It costs very little to experiment, and if they can find some way to make the service deliver on its promise, then it’s worth the effort.

And perhaps Twitter can find other metrics that programmers, and their advertisers, value beyond ratings. Maybe they can argue that Twitter keeps TV viewers more “engaged.”

But Twitter has made its TV ties a central part of its pitch to advertisers — it’s one of the reasons it’s on track to do more than $1 billion in revenue this year, despite user growth issues. And Twitter has used that story to help sell itself to Wall Street. If it doesn’t pan out, that’s a real problem.

*NBCUniversal is a minority investor in Revere Digital, the owner of Re/code.


huh?  So based on the Olympics he's making sweeping generalizations across all audiences, dayparts and programming categories?  This is exactly what is wrong with how big organizations interpret "success" in today's environment.    It's no longer just about "eyeballs".  It's about deeply engaged audiences who are building communities around the programming they love.  Scandal is one of several examples of shows that may not be considered ratings bonanza but have VIBRANT and LOYAL audiences - powered by Twitter and other social channels.  It's no longer about a singular definition of success through cause and effect.   It's about maximizing on the total experience - whatever that means to an individual audience community.  But he wants to dismiss an entire channel because the Sochi ratings were garbage.  


 As someone who has spent hundreds of hours diving into data and case studies about social TV and related technologies (streaming, smart TVs, connected devices, TV everywhere, etc.), the comments by this NBC exec seem totally out of whack to me.

I would guess he said it because (A) he's clueless about the opportunities at the intersection of social media and television content and/or (B) he wanted to give Twitter a black eye so NBC can negotiate a sweeter deal with Twitter on TV-related ad units (some of Twitter’s ad products offer a big percentage of revenue to TV networks).

If you consider the rise in cord-cutting, “cord nevers,” (approximately five million fewer cable viewers in the past five years), internet/mobile viewing, piracy, etc., then that NBC exec should be jumping for joy that the audience didn’t DROP dramatically for the Sochi Olympics instead of blaming Twitter for larger market forces. Moreover, the audience may have actually increased, but neither NBC nor Nielsen has any way to accurately measure the eyeballs in all online/mobile places. Nobody does. Anyone who says they do is blowing smoke.

While I couldn’t read the Financial Times article behind the paywall, it appears to me that the NBC exec is looking for the wrong thing—which marks him as a dinosaur. He seems to want TRADITIONAL TV viewing to increase, but that’s not likely to happen. Ever.

The ratings and ad revenue landscape has become extremely complex and increasingly granular. Old-school metrics (like people watching television sets) will persist until newer measurement technologies become more ubiquitous and reliable, but even now, complaining about a lack of TV viewers for the Olympics should evoke a collective eye roll.  In a couple of years, the NBC exec will be embarrassed about that comment. That is, if he hasn’t retired by then.


Why the hell does the Voice throw hash tags and Twitter comments in your face every second like their livelihood depends on it? #PlayoffsContinues #STFU

Barry Graubart
Barry Graubart

Interesting. I would expect Twitter to have some impact on viewing, if a modest one.

I know there have been times when I've turned on the TV specifically because my stream has suddenly begun talking about something. A good example of that was the Nik Wallenda tightrope walk. I'd never have watched that had my stream not exploded. And, clearly, Sharknado would not have had an audience iwthout the Twitter runup.

But many more mainstream examples. I've frequently glanced at the stream to see that a sporting event is a great game (like the Dallas-San Antonio game the other night) and turned on the TV.

And, I'm sure there are people who start to watch a series regularly because of the watercooler conversations on Twitter (Game of Thrones, perhaps?).

So, I think saying it's not driving traffic is probably inaccurate. But, whether it's a meaningful amount of traffic is another issue completely.


As a huge Winter Olympics fan ... I watched none of it because I could never find what I wanted to watch on NBC or USA or the other channels, and when it was on ... I was at work.

So bad example. Also a bit of a bad analogy because NBC is failing to put shows on the air that people, well, want to watch. 


 The NBC exec used the Olympics as the example of Twitter not driving traffic? Doesn't seem to me that the Olympics would be representative of what Twitter could do for other programming. 


Nielsen was pimping twitter (right before the IPO), but they might try to hold on, despite this all-too-obvious news.  Hint: if Nielsen can't quantify it, then it doesn't exist.


@CarriBugbee You might be clueless.  He's not talking about the opportunities (scant as they actually are) he's talking about what ACTUALLY happens.  Your views are aspirational; his are practical.  If Nielsen can't measure it, IT DOES NOT AMOUNT TO A PENNY OF VALUE in the ACTUAL TV ecosystem.


@c8m that's the exact opposite as this situation.  "driving traffic" twitter simply will never do. Once you're watching a show, the hashtags help give them clues about engagement. 


Also, if NBC had ideas they wouldn't have launched NBC Playground, aka we have no ideas, so please submit your own. 


@JMWJMW @CarriBugbee

What actually is happening is that NBCU can hardly get 5 million people to watch a show and only have band aids to fix ax wounds. Not even twitter can stop the flow. 

Nielsen may currently be be the cornerstone of the currency in the TV value chain today, but it won't likely be in five years. Or maybe even less. And if they are value won't be measured by the lick-finger-put-in-air audience measurement known today but rather en masse via Internet protocol. The 30 second spot is dead for anything but live and news in the future, so NBCU and other networks will have a very hard time making money anyway. Not even if they marry Time Warner. 

The guy is blaming anyone and anything to deal with the fact he's probably out of a job in a few years because he can't figure out how to measure media convergence in the living room. No one can. Yet. And while Nielsen tries it's best, it's very likely that the likes of Google Analytics and other web-based measurement systems that rely on reality not fiction will be used. The tens of billions traded in opaque TV advertising  in backhand deals in NY once a year are numbered. 

The fact of the matter is nothing will bring back ratings for NBCU. Broadcast ratings in the key 18-49 demographic tumbled by 17 per cent during the 2013  winter months when compared with a year earlier, according to Goldman Sachs, which called the decline: "the sharpest pace on record."

Niche is the new norm and mass reach is what used to fuel TV. Millennials are gone - they are busy on their Smart phones and on Machinima (50 billion views, 300 million followers and 10,000 Youtube channels). Baby Boomers are now retiring so the numbers will still keep floating for a few years maybe. But traditional TV is about to morph. 

Sounds like the NBCU exec is pissed that Twitter sold them some hope. Tough luck. 

As for your comments to Carri... there are so many nicer ways to talk to people. Yes she's optimistic. Yes she knows a lot more than you ever will about social TV, Second Screen, Transmedia, Immersive Media, Playalong TV, TV Everywhere, Video on Demand, Machinima and a slew of other emerging technologies and genre in TV. 

Yes she has more of a handle on what is going on with TV that you do. 

My two cents. 

Richard Kastelein


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