Twitter and Facebook think they’re pretty important to TV viewers and have spent the last year or so fighting for a piece of advertisers’ budgets. But it turns out that most people aren’t paying attention to social media at all when they tune in to their favorite shows.
New research from the Nielsen-affiliated Council for Research Excellence shows we’re only checking social media 16 percent of the time we watch primetime TV shows. Brands put a lot of time and effort into primetime ads, because that’s when they capture the greatest audience. But when we log on to Facebook and Twitter, we’re chatting about the show we’re watching about half the time. That’s hardly the social movement these networks are counting on to grab ad dollars.
Twitter’s Amplify program lets broadcasters send promoted tweets your way when you start talking about a show. If ABC knows you’re tweeting about Scandal, it can display a promoted tweet from a Scandal advertiser. Facebook recently rolled out auto-playing video ads to compete with TV, and has been using Nielsen data to prove its penetration among primetime advertisers’ coveted demographics.
But research shows that people are using Facebook to talk about the primetime show they’re watching 3.8 percent of the time, and even less on Twitter—just 1.8 percent of the time. Those numbers are higher for TV events like awards shows, which generate more watercooler discussion in general than normal shows, which rarely have moments like Ellen DeGeneres’s record-breaking selfie.
Twitter and Facebook each have their share of avid users, but those users don’t represent the TV-watching population as a whole. The Council for Research Excellence surveyed 1,700 people between the ages of 15 and 54 that were “representative of the online population.” The data was self-reported using mobile-app diary entries.
“The majority of viewing remains live and on traditional TV sets, but we do see that social media has a stronger relationship with the newer platforms and behaviors,” CRE Social Media Committee chair Beth Rockwood said in a statement about the newly released report. “This is evidence that social media is an important part of the new ways that people are consuming television content.”
So people are engaging with social media while watching TV, but not at the levels that Twitter has recently touted. It seems social networks are cherry-picking their data by turning up stats about their most active users—like people who tend to live-tweet TV shows.
“Super Connectors,” or people who regularly used social media to follow TV shows or actors, made up 22 percent of the survey respondents. Those people are probably better targets for ads on social media than your standard TV viewers, who are usually just bored when they tune in.