Just how many people are scrolling through Facebook as they watch TV? Those numbers will now be reported though a new metric that Nielsen is rolling out called Social Content Ratings. Like Twitter TV Ratings, which Nielsen launched in 2013, Social Content Ratings are an attempt to give TV (and streaming) networks, along with advertisers, a sense of just how many people are engaging with TV content on social media—and when.
According to Nielsen's findings, Facebook members aren't just talking about shows while they air, but long after. On the current season of Scandal, for instance, although Facebook chatter related to the show spiked during the live broadcasts, almost half of that conversation took place on non-broadcast dates.
What does this mean to networks and advertisers? That they should post Scandal content and digital ads targeted at Scandal viewers—respectively—on an ongoing basis, or at least not just leading up to a broadcast. And, theoretically, more of it, seeing as they'll be able to see exactly how many eyeballs they're reaching.
The new rating also furthers Facebook's strategy to be seen as a platform that is a crucial extension of live TV, much in the way Twitter has always framed its identity. The company has been aggressively courting TV networks and movie studios to share more content on the site, launch trailers, and run ads. Simultaneously, it's working hard to woo digital ad dollars and take a bite out of the $70 billion that advertisers spend each year on traditional TV spots. Last year, Facebook launched an ad-buying product that provided Nielsen ratings for digital ads. Now, with Social Content Ratings, the line between TV and Facebook is getting further blurred.
As for Nielsen, measuring Facebook TV chatter is part of its broader, "total audience measurement" initiative whereby it is creating a new, cumulative rating that accounts for TV views across both TV and digital platforms. As the TV viewing landscape has become more fragmented and scattered across any number of devices (Apple TV, Roku, tablets and phones), and across a wide swath of time—thanks to DVR's and on-demand options—Nielsen's traditional weekly rating has become antiquated. Just ask any network chief: most of them blame Nielsen for falling ratings.
As platforms like Facebook work with Nielsen to improve the traditional ratings system, or at least adapt it to contemporary viewing habits, a more complete—and accurate—account of how we watch television will begin to emerge. Technically, that's good news for the networks. The only question is: Who will they blame for bad numbers?