The changing relationship between Twitter and TV
Ivan Radford | On 13, Apr 2014
Twitter and TV. They’re like bangers and mash. If you could use bangers to slag off the mash – and other sausages could then share your comments with the people eating them. While also consuming mash. The key thing about this terrible extended metaphor? It wouldn’t work on Twitter. What does work on Twitter? Television.
It’s a phenomenon that has evolved naturally during the social network’s existence: people tweet about what they’re doing, while other people doing the same thing join in. It works particularly well for events – and that is, in essence, what TV strives to be: a scheduled string of events with a communal audience.
The link between the small screen and the even smaller screen of a Twitter app has been confirmed by research from Thinkbox, which found that 3 in 4 people search for hashtags on the social network after seeing them on TV.
The report, #TVTwitter: how advertisers get closer to conversation, was conducted by global research company Brainjuice on behalf of Thinkbox and considers the way that hashtags are used by viewers to shape conversations about a show, highlighting in particular the way that people share comments from other users.
“Although people like to think that they tweet for the sake of tweeting, getting retweets and responses is also important to them,” says the report. “Retweets demonstrate that other people agree with them and amplify their opinion.”
The research found that 76 per cent of people thought other users made tweets about TV shows deliberately funny so they would get retweets. 69 per cent, meanwhile, said they liked seeing celebrities joining in and having the chance to interact with them. Indeed, one of Twitter’s greatest strengths is its open access, which brings together users from all walks of life.
“TV has always been a social medium and sparked an enormous amount of conversation both in and out of the living room,” comments Neil Mortensen, Thinkbox’s research and planning director.
Twitter is well aware of its communal power when it comes to TV. Speaking at the MIPTV conference this week, the company’s chief media scientist Deb Roy said it made TV “better”.
“The biggest, most pervasive medium ever invented – television – is being intertwined with a global social medium, Twitter,” he said, before adding: “Twitter makes television better: it is in fact a force multiplier that can enhance the impact and possibilities of television.”
He compared its function to that of a movie score, dubbing Twitter the “soundtrack” to television.
“It’s hard to imagine today what E.T. would have been like without the soundtrack,” he continued. “Jaws, without the soundtrack was a silly robotic fish splashing around in the water!”
While that exaggerated claim is far from true, there’s no doubting Twitter’s suitability for TV. During the Oscars, arguably one of the year’s major TV events, more than 5 million users sent 19 million tweets – which were seen by 37 million people.
“If you count up over a 48-hour window, the number of tweet impressions delivered in that extended window exceeded 3bn,” said Roy. “The scale here is obviously significant.”
But that relationship between social media and media is changing.
Working with research firms such as Nielsen or Thinkbox, Twitter is keen to prove to broadcasters and brands that the social network can help to grow audiences. It comes as no surprise, then, that the company is teaming up with firms to strengthen its tie to TV. Facebook may be making headlines with its expensive acquisitions, but its quiet rival is no less active, slowly cementing its status as the leading real-time social platform – something that Facebook would like to be, judging by its own adoption of hashtags last year.
Indeed, Twitter has bought two European firms: Paris-based Mesagraph and London-based SecondSync.
The companies, which provide analytics to broadcasters and advertisers about Twitter’s interaction with TV, will join the company’s London office.
“Twitter is the only place that hosts a real-time, public conversation about TV at scale,” commented SecondSync, confirming the merger. “By joining Twitter, we will be able to help take that experience, in concert with the rest of the TV ecosystem, to the next level – particularly in markets outside the US. Our current UK product will continue to be available for an interim period.”
In an age where linear broadcasting gives way to on-demand streaming, Twitter is arguably even more important for instilling that feeling of a communal event. Stuart Heritage’s #Elfalong last Christmas proved the platform’s potential to bring viewers together, even without a broadcaster’s pre-determined schedule.
The relationship between Twitter and TV is changing. Not just in terms of viewer behaviour, but the company’s approach to it: Twitter is now using that link to tackle its main ongoing problem: money. By demonstrating its potential for growing an engaging audiences, Twitter can start to charge more for advertising, growing its revenue.
Whether that advertising comes from live broadcasters, brands or on-demand providers, though, one thing remains true: as long as people watch TV, they will tweet about it. With Twitter putting more and more focus on that habit, the bond between those two screens is only set to become even stronger.