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Why Every Comedian Should Pay Attention To The New Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings

March 4, 2013

If you don’t follow the TV business or the social media industry closely, it’s possible you may have missed a major announcement a couple months ago that could impact how the comedy business operates in the near future.

Back in December, Nielsen (the organization that’s responsible for measuring TV ratings) announced it was partnering with Twitter to create a new Nielsen Twitter TV Rating. You can read about it here.

Not a lot of specifics were revealed about what exactly it would be, but it’s a clear indication that Twitter conversation about television shows is about to be measured in a formal way and likely to become a metric that will contribute to determining the advertising value of various shows.

If you’re a comic or anybody who hopes to some day work in television in any capacity, this is major news. Here’s why…

Virtually all decisions in television – from what gets produced to who gets cast – are made based on what networks believe will lead to bigger ratings. That’s because the bigger the ratings, the more advertisers will pay to advertise in those shows and at the end of the day, the TV business is all about making as much money as possible from advertisers.

But the introduction of a new ratings system that incorporates the level of social conversation about a show as a key metric means that suddenly that conversation is directly monetizable by TV networks. Therefore, it becomes infinitely more valuable because the more Twitter conversation there is about a show (or a cast member of a show), the more the network can charge advertisers to run their commercials in that show.

Taken one step further, this means that the talent’s ability to attract/drive conversation about a show on Twitter directly leads to increased revenue for the network producing that show.

That’s a major development.

Suddenly, having a large (and more importantly, engaged) social media following no longer has hypothetical value in the TV industry, but has actual, literal value. And even if you don’t have a huge following, having a solid understanding and proven ability to succeed with social media also has value because it positions you as somebody who can capitalize on a larger audience if given the opportunity to reach the masses through a national TV series.

Think about it:

If you’re producing a standup comedy special whose success will be (at least partially) determined based on social media activity around it, are you going to book the comic with the active social media following or the one that doesn’t have one?

If you’re hiring a writer for a late night show and part of the job is getting a lot of social media activity for the show (because in this new world tweets equals ratings), aren’t you going to go with the comic who knows how to get a lot of retweets on their own?

If you’re casting somebody to play the wacky neighbor on a sitcom, are you going to go with the comic that already has a social media following or the one that doesn’t?

If you’re deciding what show to buy and put on the air, are you going to buy the one that has built-in social elements or the one that’s a more traditional, passive viewing experience?

These new Nielsen Twitter TV ratings won’t roll out until next Fall, but it’s easy to see how they could drastically impact which comedians get opportunities and which don’t. Even before the ratings had rolled out, you’re already seeing articles about shows that are Twitter hits such as this recent Entertainment Weekly cover story about Pretty Little Liars.

Now, it’s debatable whether or not this will ultimately be a good thing for TV from a creative standpoint, but there’s no doubt it’s going to impact the business – and the comics who are trying to crack into that business.

Just something to think about the next time somebody tries to convince you that all that matters is what a comic does on stage…

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew Hall March 4, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Hey, something else to get anxious about! Awesome.

Seriously, thanks for posting this. This is the first time I’ve heard of it.


Ward Anderson March 5, 2013 at 9:33 am

But that’s just it: What a comic does onstage already matters less in our industry than it should. Comics are hired all the time because of credits and jobs that have nothing to do with stand-up comedy.

Ever see the TV star who decided to become a comedian after becoming a star? How does he perform, typically, compared to the comic who worked his way up from the trenches?

Twitter and Nielsens working together is great in that, yes, we need to monitor how social media affects TV. Shows with a huge online following SHOULD be monitored by something other than the Nielsen box. Shows with enormous cult clout should probably be noticed by something other than a box on select TVs in select homes.

But I’m of the old-school belief that you hire a sitcom actor because he’s good on-camera, has great timing, and can carry a part. Not because he markets himself well online. Comics should be great promoters these days. With that I agree. But we already focus on marketability more than raw talent in this biz. Doling out work to the guy who manipulates Twitter to his advantage while ignoring the brilliant performer who does not seems counterproductive to what our job is really supposed to be about. I imagine that Paris Hilton would be better at Twitter than Leonard Cohen. Which one deserves the record deal?

Marketing and promotion are important. But it’s becoming how we judge the artist BEFORE we’ve seen the art, or even created it. Rather than something we use once it has been created. That kind of thinking is what leads to more reality TV stars.

And…why SHOULDN’T a comic be looked at for his work onstage first and foremost? Isn’t that, you know, the job description? Would you say that publishers should consider a novelist who is great at Twitter above the one who is—go figure—a better novelist?

If you hire your TV writers based on Twitter followers, good luck to you. They might be great. But I’d probably be more apt to hire the guy who turned in an excellent spec script than the guy who managed to score tons of Twitter followers and writes snappy snart-ass quotes in 140 characters.

Of course social media and networking are important. Of course comedians should be doing it. Of course these things are important to building a fan base and maintaining the one you have.

…But they can also be manipulated. Just like a comic with his feet barely wet can hire a publicist to help get him seen by all the right people, social media popularity can be manufactured and designed to promote someone as something they are not. Frankly, I don’t applaud that line of thinking.

And, honestly, do we need to give The Powers That Be even less of a reason to leave their offices and actually venture into a comedy club once in a while to see what a live stand-up comic actually looks like?


funny mike March 6, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I feel what u saying but I think we have to accept the fact that we are living in different times and things have certainly change. Today is different because first of all the comedy game is over saturated and televison shows come and go because of very low ratings so the networks would rather hire someone who will bring in the ratings to keep the show on the air instead of someone with talent but no social skills to get their fans to watch and boost up the ratings. The NEW formula is like this: TWITTER + NO TALENT= SUCCESS


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