Twitter’s pitch to TV and ad land still leaves many questions unanswered

Nic ChristensenLast night saw a TV-style upfronts event for the launch of the Nielsen TV Twitter Ratings. Mumbrella’s Nic Christensen argues there are still big questions around Twitter’s number of users and levels of engagement in Australia.     

The hashtag for Twitter’s event last night laid out the kind of thinking it wants local media buyers and TV networks to adopt: #TVxTwitter. But while the company might be keen to highlight how “Australians love using Twitter to engage with TV”, its motives in pushing into this space aren’t entirely altruistic.

In the first big public statement made by the social media platform in Australia, two years after opening an office here, the company was keen to push its place as a second screen app for TV networks, and how it can engage audiences and ‘multiply’ them, and the advertising experience for brands.

The problem is, when it comes the number of Australian using the platform, Twitter has steadfastly refused to release the data. Some reports suggest it is stalled at around 2.8m registered/active users. When asked last night about rumours of 4m local users a Twitter exec would only say “we hear so many numbers, very rarely are they in the vicinity”.

Television, quite simply, represents the social media platform’s best chance of building momentum and catching up to the likes of Facebook, which claims 12m plus registered users, and also presents the opportunity for Twitter to carve out own its slice of the multi-billion dollar TV ad market.

Twitter’s desire to grow its local market share was laid out on Australia Day when it launched the following four and half minutes video which highlights the key pillars it needs for growth – sport, music, news and entertainment.

To this end bringing the major TV networks on board will be crucial in terms of pushing them to drive social engagement – and the local user base.

Twitter will also be seeking to use its relationship with the networks to get a share in commercial partnerships which will offer new sustainable revenue streams for the platform, which is great at capturing headlines but not so hot at turning big profits.

This is why Twitter used a large part of last night to talk about key products such as Amplify and Fabric (of which more later), but in particular focus on the Nielsen TV Twitter Ratings (NTTR).

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.08.26 pmAs the platform itself noted, last night, the NTTR have already been rolled out in a number of countries such the USA, UK, Japan and Brazil, typically with the local approved metric or currency.

In Australia, Twitter has chosen to go with audience measurement company Nielsen which had its contract for online audience measurement approved by industry body the IAB back in October.

But the NTTR has so far struggled to sign up Australia’s fairly traditional and conservative TV networks. In the run up to the launch only Network Ten had signed up, with Nielsen last night announcing that it also has Nine on board.

Simply put it has two out of five. It’s noticeable that the ABC, despite being a massive advocate for Twitter (ABC MD Mark Scott even appeared in the above video spruiking Twitter) is absent.

In part this lacklustre take up is likely driven by two factors. One is the price: Nielsen is understood to have dropped its price for Twitter Ratings, at least twice, with sources suggesting the subscription fee has gone from $100,000 a year down to $70,000 (Nielsen declined to comment on $100,000 figure saying it was commercial-in-confidence, but said the figure of $70,000 was incorrect).

At either figure the price of NTTR is thought to be somewhat prohibitive, particularly for a metric which only covers social media users on one platform, given other cross-social media analysis software is priced in the order of $40,000-$50,000 a year.

This brings us to the other limitation. TV networks, and agencies for that matter, have already paid for these cross-media social media analysis tools, such as Radian6, and are unlikely to be rushing to pay for a second tool that only looks at Twitter engagement.

While Twitter is good at getting news headlines and media buzz in Australia it appears to have so far failed to translate into more users. What is also now clear is that Facebook, Youtube, Tumblr, Linkedin and Instagram all have larger user bases.

This was highlighted by the relatively small number of people tweeting about major events highlighted in the preview of the new Nielsen TV Twitter Ratings from Sunday night:

Twitter Ratings Sunday night is likely to be one of the biggest nights of television for 2015 with the men’s Grand Final of the Australian Open on Seven facing-off against the One Day Cricket final of Australia v England on Nine, and the debut of the much promoted I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here on Ten.

While these shows pulled TV audiences of 2.088m for the Tennis, 991,000 for the Cricket and 1.2m for Celebrity, the new metric shows there were just 18,000 “unique authors” for the tennis, 7,200 for Celebrity and 3,300 for the cricket.

With just 18,000 people tweeting out of an audience of 2.088m for the tennis (leaving aside some of those were presumably in the 14,000 seat Rod Laver Arena) media buyers and marketers questioning whether Twitter isn’t a very niche medium.

And whilst the fact that Twitter is a niche audience isn’t exactly new news, it is likely to be a growing issue for the platform in the coming months.

On Tuesday We are Social’s figures on tweets from Monday night’s TV saw all of the big reality juggernauts dwarfed by the the ABC’s Q&A. This is a testament to the ABC’s success in integrating the social platform into the political talkfest, but its also a sign that the people on Twitter might not be your average suburban grocery buyer.

But the biggest issue for media buyers is likely to be some of the audience numbers that Twitter and Nielsen extrapolate from this data.

Take the claim that those 18,000 “authors”, tweeting on average 2.5 tweets each, generated a staggering 4m impressions to a unique audience 214,000.

While I expect most buyers and their clients would have no problem with the 18,000 figure, the value of the 4m impressions is questionable, particularly in the sense of sponsorship. After all who reads all the tweets on the screen in their often rapidly moving stream?

Nielsen last night said it only counts tweets that appear on screen, but the reality is the crucial figure here isn’t impressions but rather engagement, something which is already offered by Twitter’s own platform analytics.twitter.com.

While the NTTR is going to provide much deeper insight, with users able to identify key influencers among other things, the likelihood is that most players are going to have to weigh up cost benefit analysis of paying for this level of granularity.

As for the unique audience it might well be 200,000 people, but how many of them are in Australia? Nielsen has said the unique audience is Australian only – while declining to reveal the total pool.

Twitter itself last night noted that celebrity and officially verified show accounts are important to growing the unique audience of a show like The Voice – but for a local advertiser I’d be questioning the value my domestic brand gets from a retweet from Ricky Martin (11m followers), or Serena Williams (4.5m followers) with the tennis, given their global Twitter fan base.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 10.16.19 am

This really brings us back to the lack of clarity about the total pool of Australian Twitter users, and more how many are active.

The social media platform has long maintained that it doesn’t break down numbers on a country by country basis, preferring instead to quote the global figure of 288m.

That’s their right, but when Twitter wants to have a commercial conversation getting TV networks, media buyers and brands to give them a share of their television budgets, these people are going to be demanding more local intelligence.

Twitter wants to talk about its be Twitter Amplify product, where brands pay to promote keywords and hashtag, and Twitter’s Fabric product, which is a mobile development platform that makes sign up to apps easy (using Twitter), but ultimately gives the platform full visibility to the app’s database (something developers and brands may be reluctant to do given the platform’s history of changing the rules when it comes to third party applications).

The biggest threat to Twitter right now is that the platform becomes seen as peripheral, particularly when compared to the large audience of the ‘old media’ TV networks.

As former Dentsu Aegis chairman and now Free TV chairman Harold Mitchell told the SMH earlier this week, for media buyers total audience is still important.

“The size of the overall audience is the most important one,” said the man who built a career as one of Australia’s shrewdest media buyers.

“If you have got 200 people and they are all twitterers in the audience as opposed to something else which has got 1.7m, like a tennis match at the Australian Open the other night, but nobody is twittering, I’d go for the 1.7m, otherwise you are a twit.”

As it currently stands Mitchell’s perspective is likely to be shared by many in TV and ad land – at least until Twitter becomes more open about its total audience.

  • Nic Christensen is the deputy editor of Mumbrella.

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