Media Planning & Buying

Use Social Media Ratings and Analysis to Inform Upfront Buys

Posted by Dan Neely on May 18th, 2010 at 12:00 am

What's the 10th highest rated show according to Nielsen? What's the highest rated show according to the buzz in social media? We'll come back to the answer, but here's a hint: they're the same show.    

It's TV upfronts week, a rite of spring for networks, agencies and brands. The grand presentations and shrewd negotiations hail from a time when  the only question that mattered was: Are they watching our show? Because if they watch our show, they'll watch our ads.

The water has gotten muddy since that Golden Age -- online video, time-shifted viewing, fragmentation of networks and audiences -- these represent enormous changes in the way we consume TV.  And we all know these factors change the value of TV advertising. But the metrics that define that value, dominated by Nielsen ratings, have not kept pace. The system looks increasingly antiquated and biased.

The "SocialSenseTV: Network Ratings Report, May 2010" was released today. It draws on 1.5 billion online interactions from 300 million people to measure engagement of TV audiences around various network shows and related issues. This information -- providing a new way to measure and value the worth of a show -- can be used by networks on the sell side or agencies on the buy side.

Here are some key findings, starting with the answers to our opening questions: The top show buzzing in social media is... "Lost." And, yes, it's only the 10th ranked show according to Nielsen. "Lost" rates a Social Index of 131.4. (That's approximately 1,314,000 interactions -- posts and reads -- per week.) "American Idol," Nielsen's top show, ranks second in our chart with a Social Index of 126.5 (1,265,000 interactions). After that, the conversation begins to taper in sheer numbers, but even the 20th ranked show in the social chart pulls in an index of 32.2 (or 322K interactions).

 Top 10 shows in social engagement:

  1. Lost
  2. American Idol
  3. Glee
  4. The Simpsons
  5. Heroes
  6. Dancing with the Stars
  7. House
  8. CSI: Miami
  9. Saturday Night Live
  10. 30 Rock


The SocialSenseTV Top 20 list (not shown here) includes the Social Rank and Nielsen Rank for each show (as well as a Social Index).  This new social metric creates a new order: More than half the shows in the SocialSenseTV Top 20 don't crack Nielsen's top 20. Shows that rank high in social media ratings but lower in Nielsen ratings signal an opportunity to explore further. These shows can provide tremendous value, because ad inventory will be generally less expensive for low-ranked Nielsen shows. And some advertisers are seeking out highly engaged audiences with the idea that they are more likely to watch live, more likely to pay attention to ads, and more likely to value the relationship between brand and a show they feel passionate about.

Network rankings change when measured by social engagement or Nielsen ratings:

Network ranking chart

Branded content integration

Skipping commercials has become a major concern for advertisers, so branded content is a hot topic. The report examines two high-profile examples of branded content in TV shows. It's well known that Subway rescued "Chuck" from cancellation. And the fans remember. Subway is talked about in online conversation about the show. One viewer wrote "The best way to let Subway know you are partaking in their product to keep Chuck on the air is to write it in their comment card." 

We also looked at the "Modern Family" and iPad brand integration episode. Though it's clear that iPad brought a lot more audience and buzz to the table than the show, Apple still got a lift: $516K in earned media, based on mentions that included both the show and the product directly after airing.  

The full report includes more information on how social intelligence can be used for marketing intelligence, how media metrics have evolved,  and more analysis of social top-ranked shows.

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