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New Nielsen Research Shows Social TV is a Bellwether for Audience Engagement

Findings demonstrate for the first time a correlation between Twitter TV activity and neurological engagement of program viewers

New York, NY March 9, 2015 – Nielsen, a global information and measurement company, today released findings that demonstrate that Twitter activity around the live airings of TV programs is indicative of general audiences’ engagement with those programs. The Nielsen study offered the industry’s first statistical evidence of the correlation between Twitter TV activity and viewer engagement.

The study leveraged Nielsen’s proprietary consumer neuroscience technology to analyze the brain activity of nearly 300 viewers as they watched new episodes of eight primetime broadcast and cable TV shows ranging in levels of Twitter activity and TV ratings. It then compared those viewers’ neurological activity with program-related conversation on Twitter (i.e., Tweets) around the live airings of each episode to understand whether increases and decreases in Twitter activity were correlated to viewers’ neurological response to a program.

Through this comparison, Nielsen found that Twitter activity around TV programs had a strong correlation (79.5%) to neurological engagement with those programs. Neurological engagement was defined as the combination of emotion, memory and attention.

“Neurological testing offers an incredibly granular and precise opportunity to look at how consumers react to content or advertising. Thanks to this study, we now know that viewers are more likely to be compelled to Tweet about their experience and impressions while watching TV when program content recruits multiple psychological processes,” said Joe Willke, President, Nielsen Neuro. “This study opens exciting potential for neurological testing of program content, while also proving that Twitter volume is directly indicative of the overall salience of a program.”

This is the first study that demonstrates the value of social activity not as a measure in and of itself but rather as a bellwether for general audience engagement. Prior industry research has examined the relationship between second screen social media behavior and the engagement levels of viewers using those second screens, but this study breaks ground by showing that social activity about TV programs is indicative of the engagement levels of general program audiences. Furthermore, the research found that TV-related conversation on Twitter is tied to the same neurometrics that have been proven by ad testing to correlate with sales outcomes. The findings also complement prior Nielsen research that has shown that ads perform better on memorability in TV programs with high program engagement.

“This research is a major step forward in proving the value of using social TV data in media planning and buying processes,” said Deirdre Thomas, SVP of Client Solutions, Nielsen. “It shows that more social shows deliver more engaged audiences. Combined with the fact that prior research has shown the correlation between neurological engagement and sales outcomes, as well as between program engagement and ad memorability, this research points to an important role for social TV data in media planning and buying.”

There are three major implications from this study. First, for TV networks, Twitter TV activity around a program’s live airing can be used as an indicator of how engaged TV audiences are with programming, overall and at the minute-by-minute level. Second, agencies and advertisers can look to Twitter TV metrics as a part of the media planning and buying process to identify shows with highly engaged audiences and, by extension, the potential to bolster ad memorability and sales outcomes. Third, with brain activity predicting social response, networks and content producers could use neurological testing separate of or as a complement to existing testing practices to optimize programming.

This Nielsen study was conducted as part of ongoing research to introduce new ways that TV networks, agencies and advertisers can use social TV and consumer neuroscience to make superior, data-driven advertising and programming decisions. More detailed findings from the study are available here.


Nielsen N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit


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