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…