Twitter vs TV Ratings – when media research and social analytics collide

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The recent ‘Breaking Bad’ finale ranked as the most-tweeted show in the US, but it didn’t even break into the top 10 of the official TV ratings list. What gives?

Our friend Matt Hart (@kiwihart) at Innovation Pipeline sent through a great article from Wired Magazine about the relationship between levels of Tweeting around TV shows and official Nielsen TV ratings. If you get time check it out – it’s the best we’ve read on this issue to date.

If you don’t have time here’s a low-down: TV ratings giant Nielsen has discovered a statistically significant link between tweet levels and audience ratings, but the correlation is a long way from perfect.

In short, shows like NCIS get massive official TV ratings but generate very few tweets. On the other hand, the Breaking Bad finale ranked as the most tweeted show in the US but didn’t even break into the top 10 of the official TV ratings list.

Factors like differences in the age profile of a TV show audience compared to that of Twitter’s user base can explain why tweet levels and TV ratings don’t often align closely.

However, Colourtext’s semantic analysis of Twitter data suggests there may actually be a firmer relationship between tweet levels and the content franchise value of a TV show.

Our best shot at defining a ‘content franchise’ goes like this. In the 1960s early seasons of Star Trek achieved mediocre TV ratings. Only the discovery of a vocal cult audience following preserved the show, and eventually led to its development as a multi-billion dollar TV, movie and merchandising content franchise.

The key point is there was nothing in Star Trek’s early TV ratings to predict the long term success and dollar-value of the show as a content franchise. Only the passion of a committed niche audience could have betrayed Star Trek’s future potential.

Which is where things might get interesting with social platforms like Twitter. We now get instant and continuous ‘mega-qualitative’ feedback on TV shows from Twitter. The problem, of course, is reading through the deluge of feedback.

Colourtext’s mantra of “Sarcasm does not compute” has shaped our approach to this challenge. We’ve developed a careful process for semantically analysing Twitter messages about TV shows and other brands, which can reveal a variety of insights, including:

  • – The nature and degree of impact generated by specific on-screen talent or dramatic characters
  • – Brand franchise DNA (the show’s character & innate appeal)
  • – Levels of anticipation or prediction about the outcome of specific plot lines
  • – Levels of engagement or antipathy with specific plot lines
  • – The quality and variety of emotions and themes expressed about the show
  • – Appraisals of individual actors or performers


To wrap up, we think official TV ratings measure one aspect of a TV show’s commercial value – it’s ability to generate advertising revenue.

On the other hand, Twitter message levels might point to a broader set of TV show attributes that signal longer term content-franchise value.

To learn more about how Colourtext analyses Twitter data, and what we can reveal about your brand, please email

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