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Twitter and television: A match made in social media heaven

Those in the know have long suspected something romantic has been developing between the mature establishment figure of television and the giddy young darling that is the social media network. The two have just been getting closer and closer over the last few years. A Thinkbox report, which revealed that Britons now watch over four hours of television a day, has also revealed that 70 – 80 per cent of device owners are utilising their smartphones, tablets and laptops while watching their favourite shows. These individuals are indulging in double screening: using the handheld screen to purchase products, check facts or read and broadcast tweets about the very programmes they are watching.

Looking back a few decades, television stood alone. In 1966, 32.3 million people watched the World Cup final on the country’s 15 million television sets and the Eastenders’ Christmas Day special 1986 was watched by 30.15 million, a figure that was only surpassed by the funeral of Princess Diana a few years later. Some decades on, the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board revealed that the 2012 X Factor results show had an audience of 13.46 million, illustrating the fact that the era of vast audiences is gone because viewers are spread over a diverse range of channels. But this is where social media stepped in, bringing youthful vigour to the tired old world of television statistics.

Twitter is by far the most important social media platform and it is where 95 per cent of the public’s real-time engagement with television takes place. A tweet is the shortest distance between the individual and the thing that interests them. Every day, 400 million tweets are sent and, according to Second Sync, 40 per cent of all UK Twitter traffic at peak television viewing times is about TV.

Dazzling ingénue, Bluefin, a start-up TV analytics company based in Massachusetts, came on the scene four years ago with the intention of quantifying audience engagement with television by measuring these social media conversations. Their analytics are able to bring a new level of depth to viewing statistics, revealing the truth behind the figures. For example, The X Factor series generated 14 million tweets in 2012, driven by on-air hashtags, celebrity tweets and a passionate Twitter audience. From the outset, Bluefin could show that the ultimate winner was mentioned more frequently than any other contestant, revealing where public interest really lay, long before any voting took place. In the show’s final, of 1.12 million tweets from 505,000 unique users, 387,000 of these mentioned James Arthur compared to only 86,000 which mentioned the runner up.

It did not take long for the clever people at Twitter to see the value these analytics could provide to television agencies and brands looking for insight into how they are performing on social media. For a figure estimated to be in the region of $70 million, Twitter has bought the Bluefin Labs, thereby marrying television analytics with its brand and the acquisition confirms what industry insiders already knew: that social media and television are a match made in heaven.

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