One more indication that the world of TV is in massive reset mode: the all-powerful Nielsen ratings are being flushed out as the standard by which all TV audiences are measured. New modes of measuring are taking TV data crunching and analysis to new heights and scale, soon leaving Nielsen ratings in the dust.
We are at an inflection point in TV history, where the mass-market medium that has been reaching into American households for decades (the TV) is now intersecting with the newer mass communication phenomenon of social networks. And this intersection is an explosive combination that will redefine the world of television, as we know it.
Case in point: the traditional way by which the popularity of TV shows have been measured since the inception of TV – the infamous Nielsen rating system – is becoming a thing of the past. It’s ironic – Nielsen rankings have killed (or made) so many careers in the TV industry and now it’s their turn to be in the ICU with a low prognosis of survival.
What’s happening is that Nielsen is being pushed over the cliff by young up-and-comers who provide analytics about social buzz – something that is becoming a lot more relevant than the small sample of households that Nielsen monitors (for a good overview of how Nielson monitors “TV households” in the US, click here). The potential to track the likes and dislikes of millions of viewers is now much higher with the newer “second screens” apps and social network analytics technologies that are now on the market.
Facebook and Twitter alone reach 800 million and 100 million users, respectively. The fact that an ever-growing subset of these Facebook and Twitter fans now use the social platforms to engage around TV shows points to a huge potential for monitoring the popularity of these shows. Technologies to analyze the TV-related chatter on social networks are already being leveraged by dozens of “second screen” app providers (a good summary of the leading ones is here) and social analytics companies (like BlueFin Labs, Netbase, Trendrr, etc.)
These companies can reach the kind of scale that could not achieved by the Nielsen method of monitoring a small sample of households and they can also they can crunch BIG data in REAL TIME.
What’s particularly fascinating to me (I am a data analytics addict given my background as a Gartner analyst) is that I have seen this happen before. I call it the “wisdom of the crowd” applied to Big Data.
That’s how Gartner Group, the leading research company in IT, got created a few decades ago. Its founder, Gideon Gartner, got the idea by observing how Wall Street financial experts issued “ratings” on stocks of IT companies like IBM, Microsoft etc. Like Nielsen in the TV world, “Buy, Sell and Hold” stock ratings by Wall Street analysts from leading firms like Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs could make or break stocks. What Gideon cleverly figured out was that the people issuing these ratings were financials experts who did not necessarily understand the brave new world of IT and thus based their analysis on a limited view of a company’s health: they only looked at the balance sheet. It was certainly a good indicator but not the whole story – just like Nielsen only monitoring 25,000 households without taking into account all the types of screens that are now been used to watch TV (see Wikipedia).
Gideon had the vision to go ask the people who actually used the IT products created by the IT companies rated by Wall Street analysts, whether they liked these products and thus would keep buying them. By talking to Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) of large banks, retail chains etc., Gartner analysts gathered data on how the actual users of IT products sold by IBM, Microsoft and others rated these products, thereby learning whether they would keep buying them (if they liked them) or switch to another product from another vendor (if they didn’t like them).
Thus, based on the data gathered from the actual users of IT, Gartner was able to predict (and influence) the market success of IT products and provide a new type of ratings about IT product vendors, above and beyond Wall Street’s financial-based ratings.
History is now repeating itself in the world of data analytics. Different industry (TV versus IT) but same model: the Bluefin’s and Trendrr’s of this world are now doing to Nielsen what Gartner did to Wall Street firms in the early 80’s: tapping the crowds of TV viewers to gather and crunch data about TV products versus relying on the limited views of a select few. That’s game changing, folks – it’s way up there in the category of “paradigm shift.”
We can only start to imagine the possibilities unleashed by the ability to analyze and define consumer profiles from the massive data streams produced by millions of TV viewers every data “on the fly”. It’s like being able to channel a tsunami (the exploding waves of data) into well-managed rivers of data streams that will then feed the fields of advertising and content creation with relevant data to better target audiences with better ads and better content.
The dawn of a new TV era…
Articles referenced in this post are: