As we complete the third full quarter in which major audience measurement firms including Nielsen, comScore and Rentrak considered the impact of social media on content ratings, it's interesting to see how that engagement is shaping the entertainment landscape.
FierceOnlineVideo monitored reports from these three firms, grabbing a weekly snapshot from each. While the publicly available numbers for each are completely separate and disparate, they provide a surface-level look at what people are watching on broadcast TV, what content they're streaming or downloading digitally, and how they're engaging with it on social media.
Show me the money
For the past several quarters, media and entertainment players have kept an eye on traditional and new measurement standards to see what common metrics develop and to get a feel for how the audience is evolving. Now, as more networks, distributors and content creators commit to OTT video, it's do-or-die time for converting analysis of audiences into cash.
"There's a bigger story than competition between [measurement providers] like comScore, Rentrak and Nielsen, and that's the [dominance] of the subscription video on demand model," said Kurt Michel, senior marketing director at IneoQuest. "Ad-supported VOD models must get traction in the OTT space to counter SVOD's pure play. Until we have someone [measuring] that, SVOD is going to win the game."
However, while there's no standard measurement metric to go by in OTT audience analytics, the problem is not that the technology doesn't exist, Michel said. "Measuring what people are watching is more of a business industry level issue. Companies could expose how many people are watching a particular program. They don't want to because that information can be very valuable."
That can cause an unbalanced view of the online video audience, what they're watching, and how they're interacting with content. For example, Netflix has great insight on its subscribers and uses it to figure out what people want to watch on its service, Michel said. But the content owners who licensed their TV series and movies to Netflix likely don't get a look at those metrics, and therefore don't know the value of their content.
Next year, TiVo will begin publicly releasing measurement data on broadcast content collected from its set-top DVRs beginning in the first quarter. It will be interesting to see how the numbers shape up from the manufacturer, whose data, collected from over 2 million households, hopefully will provide an additional unbiased look at actual viewer preferences.
How engagement fits
As noted in the first-quarter rundown of audience metrics, social media engagement provides an accessible and somewhat verifiable way to find out how many people are interested in and talking about a given series or movie. Several measurement firms added social media metrics over the past year, offering in-depth analyses to providers -- for a fee, of course.
Gathering social media use data attacks the measurement problem from another angle. While analysis firms haven't made public any industry-changing data, some interesting observations have shook out. For example, an Engagement Labs ranking of social data released in October said that viewers were engaging pretty intensely with some new Fox shows that otherwise had lower Nielsen ratings.
That's an interesting observation in light of numbers from MoffettNathanson, which has been tracking cable and broadcast ratings by week for a while now. For example, the analyst firm noted that during the first full week of October, Fox ratings climbed mainly due to the premiere of Empire and its NFL broadcasts. In the final week of October, AMC hit The Walking Dead had ratings down 5 percent compared to the same week last year. Fox ratings for its shows, except for its top hit Empire, were down 34 percent year-over-year.
Despite these ratings ups and downs, Fox show Scream Queens saw a Facebook engagement performance score of 96.99 from Engagement Labs (which calls its distilled social media plus word of mouth scores "eValue") and a Twitter score of 99.64 on Oct. 8, a MediaPost article said.
Engagement Labs "eValue" charts put Scream Queens at the top of social media engagement on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram through September and into October. (Shown: Sept. 28-Oct. 4 rankings)
However, just because social media attention is focusing on a specific series, it doesn't mean the buzz is all good. "While maintaining online hype, the show has also consistently battled with The Muppets for top spot for offline word of mouth conversation during the course of the first four weeks of the fall TV season," said Ed Keller, CEO at Keller Fay and president at Engagement Labs. "Despite being the most talked about shows offline, the conversations about Scream Queens and The Muppets have not always been positive."
But back to the third quarter for now. Nielsen, which publicly releases overall Twitter engagement data each week, found that the Streamy Awards grabbed viewer interest on Sept. 17, with 473,000 tweets made about the ceremony.
Season premieres took over the Twitter feed for the rest of the month, with Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and Heroes Reborn getting plenty of mentions on Sept. 24 (below), while Empire dominated the following week.
NFL and college football dominated the sports conversation throughout the third quarter, with UEFA Champions League soccer hitting the top three in the final week of September with more than 3.1 million unique views and 41,000 tweets made.
ComScore publicly releases raw numbers on site visits, ranking pages like Google Sites (which includes YouTube) and Facebook accordingly. The analytics firm recently acquired Rentrak, so it remains to be seen what metrics each firm publishes after the deal closes.
The company also announced a new cross-media tool, Xmedia, that will measure TV and digital platform content consumption for its clients.
For July, Google Sites topped the online video rankings in terms of unique viewers. No surprise there, but Facebook and Yahoo sat well behind the leader.
Facebook unique viewers dipped slightly in August to 88.9 million:
Facebook regained ground in video viewers during September, however.
When desktop-only views are combined with mobile views, however, a different story begins to emerge. Here, while Facebook remains in second place for September, its combined desktop and mobile viewers closed in on Google's 245 million uniques, recording 215 million unique viewers of its own. Yahoo Sites also shows strong mobile takeup.
Let's take a quick look at the performance of one site, Hulu, which is a customer of comScore. The measurement firm said in a report issued in June 2015, "Hulu Total Audience Measurement Across Platforms," authored by Peter Naylor, SVP of sales at Hulu and Manish Batia, CRO at comScore, that mobile and OTT platform viewing were driving Hulu audience growth, while desktop viewing dropped between March 2014 and March 2015. Mobile viewing jumped the most, 63 percent, year over year, to just under 8 million unique viewers per month, with OTT platforms following closely at 57 percent growth, closing in on 9 million uniques per month.
Those numbers give some idea of how quickly mobile viewing is growing at Hulu, as well as how much viewers are adopting other OTT platforms like streaming devices by Roku, Amazon and others.
In addition to tracking online movie VOD rentals and purchase, Rentrak publishes some information on social media engagement around broadcast programs, giving a view into what online viewers might also be interested in.
For the week of July 20-26, for example, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 topped video on demand (VOD) charts and digital movie sales despite bringing in far less at the box office than second-place VOD title Kingsman: The Secret Service.
But everyone's favorite mall cop quickly dropped off the VOD chart and by the end of August Mad Max: Fury Road ruled the on-demand and digital movie sales world.
The digital and VOD release of Disney's Cinderella during the week of Sept. 14-20 displaced Avengers: Age of Ultron and Mad Max.
While Rentrak's publicly available rankings don't reveal a whole lot about viewer behavior, they do suggest some trends -- such as audiences possibly waiting for a middling film like Paul Blart to be available at home for a lower price than paying to see it at a theater. But box office hits like Mad Max also performed quite well in VOD and digital sales formats. Deeper analysis into why viewers make these kind of purchasing choices could prove out the strategy by Netflix content guru Ted Sarandos of releasing certain movies both in theaters and online on the same day, as the streaming service did this month with its first produced movie, Beasts of No Nation.
Finally, let's take a quick look at Rentrak's numbers on social media engagement around broadcast television. One thing that stood out during the third quarter was the enduring conversation around Spanish-language programming in particular.
For example, during the week of Aug. 31 to Sept. 6, the top five programs in terms of social media engagement were all Hispanic focused. Telemundo series El Senor de los Cielos had a huge digital audience rating and topped Rentrak's "stickiness index," part of the TV Essentials ratings package it sells to clients, with a ranking of 138. The only English-language program to approach it was NBC series America's Got Talent, which also saw a large digital audience rating but ranked seventh on Rentrak's index.
Again, Rentrak's social media engagement measurement appears to bear out the idea that TV series that aren't necessarily highly rated overall under traditional TV measurement still do well in terms of mentions on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.
While trying to directly correlate information from various measurement services is just not possible from the data that they do release publicly, it's clear that a trend is emerging from viewer conversations about digital and broadcast programming. How much that is directly taken into account by content creators, distributors and others isn't known, naturally. But it will be interesting to see what metrics these firms attach importance to over the next several months. Stay tuned.