Analytics Beyond the TV ScreenWhen talking to a group of professional communication students at Philadelphia University, I asked them a simple question. “How do you know which TV shows to watch?” Their answer was matter-of-factly stated. “Through social media.”

I followed up by asking if anyone knew what Neilsen ratings were and only two half up/ half down hands raised without full confidence and with a puzzled look, which gave me reinforcement of what I already knew. Neilsen ratings, once a matter of great interest to consumers, are losing authority.

Now, the main audience of Neilsen ratings is focused more on advertisers and networks, but this all converges when figuring out and navigating user behaviors and what really matters to all audiences.

A recent article I read in Wired magazine, Welcome to the Platinum Age of TV, discussed the allure of television beyond the traditional television. Basically, the engagement of an audience with a TV show goes far beyond actually watching the show. Although Neilsen ratings are trying to change this for 2013-1204 (check out their new cross-platform report), they just do not provide the full picture of a show’s popularity and reach because essential data is lacking in their analytics.

Now, this isn’t to say that the current Neilsen ratings do not have merit – because they do. They still serve as the standard for gauging show watching/behaviors and reviewing the scope of an audience, but as viewers who appreciate shows on multiple screens, it’s not about what we watch when the show is available – it’s about what we watch when we are available.

(Note: For 2013, Neilsen has identified and will measure a new group of American households called “Zero-TV,” which do not fit the definition of the traditional TV household used in Neilsen studies.)

We live in the world where everything is at our fingertips and available when we need and want it. In fact, I am writing this post aboard a Delta Airlines flight from my bluetooth keyboard attached to my iPad at 10.21 p.m. with a pile of PDFs and magazines on the empty seat next to me. We know that what we want will be accessible when we are ready, and that is how we choose to consume ALL media. We also want to tell everyone about it using our online reach (read: social networks). We want to voice our opinion and tell our friends what we liked, don’t like, and engaging in a community with similar interests allows us to connect – albeit virtually.

There are a few companies who are working to measure the social media TV chatter (check out Bluefin Labs, recently acquired by Twitter) by tracking hashtag trends and mentions. Through a combination of this data and traditional ratings, Neilsen could create a new scale of measurement, which will redefine the social impact of TV viewership and lead to more interactive and crowd-sourced programming.

So, for production and for networks – will these additional analytics of user engagement, beyond what is collected through the Neilsen sample, change TV programming? Will that information provide a better snapshot into a show’s performance, audience interaction and interest, and ultimately lead to consumer-driven programming that goes beyond viewing habits and into analyzing sentiment and community?

Time will tell.