The numbers are out and the verdict is in: You really, really liked watching Miley Cyrus’s train wreck of an awards performance on Sunday.
That much was certainly apparent on Twitter, which had big numbers for MTV’s annual Video Music Awards. The network saw heights of more than 300,000 tweets per minute during the Miley moment, and upward of 4.5 million mentions of the pop starlet’s name over the course of the three-hour broadcast.
It wasn’t just apparent in the tweets. Nielsen released its stats on viewership for the VMAs on Monday afternoon, a big win for the cable broadcast network aimed at teens and millennials: It attracted a total audience of 10.1 million viewers, ranked as cable’s top entertainment broadcast of 2013 among those age 12 through 34.
Here’s the real question: Just how much are those two sets of stats related? How much does Twitter activity actually matter for a live event?
If you ask Twitter it will give you its long-standing pitch. Lots of activity drives buzz, it says, which can increase viewership. That’s good for everyone.
And to its credit, recent studies suggest that Twitter’s tale is actually true. As a recent Nielsen study found, all that Twitter chatter about a show can indeed increase tune-in of that same show as it airs live. In a sense, that’s a huge validation.
But perhaps an even more compelling stat: Twitter and Nielsen can offer advertisers data on real-time tweet impressions. That is, a number much closer to a tweet’s “true reach” than just a retweet or an @mention. (It’s not true true, mind you, as this doesn’t include embedded tweets on websites or tweets viewed in unofficial Twitter apps. But it’s closer.)
So take the data on this VMA tweet from NSync’s Lance Bass, which saw about 180,000 impressions, according to Twitter. Or this one from Ashton Irwin, which saw around 125,000. Or Taylor Swift’s tweet, with 480,000 impressions.
Look at it this way: Twitter can turn to networks and say, “We’ll bring in viewership to your broadcast!” while also telling brands that Twitter can show how many captive, tweet-watching eyeballs an advertiser has during a show’s airing.
That, in turn, could drive brand ad spending for both networks and for Twitter’s promoted ad products.
A few caveats here, before I make Twitter’s pitch sound ideal: That Nielsen tune-in study suggests more Twitter chatter can increase viewership, but doesn’t always do so. Moreover, the increase in viewership isn’t a predictable amount. They just know that shows can see some “statistically significant” boost 29 percent of the time.
Also worth noting: While the VMAs saw significant Twitter chatter last year, viewership was down big-time in 2012, to the tune of a mere 6.1 million. Probably a good thing to remember when Twitter tries to take credit for TV ratings wins.
And let’s not forget competitor Facebook chiming in more recently. Facebook claims that it too has quite a bit of TV chatter on its network – five times more than Twitter, in fact. (An obvious claim, considering Facebook’s scale.)
But what Facebook has yet to publicly prove, and Twitter is increasingly moving toward proving, is this: Tweets about a broadcast are reaching people as it is aired, and those tweets are having some effect on attracting and retaining eyeballs.
The next step? More proof in how strong that connection is. We’ll see what both networks come up with next.