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Brief Published: 23 Jan 2015

The Death of TV Ratings

Fargo from FX, a network prioritising quality over ratings

Social engagement is now more important than TV ratings. That’s according to Keith Hindle, chief executive of digital and branded entertainment at London-based entertainment company Fremantle. This week, he told UK newspaper The Guardian: “A few years ago, the only things that mattered was ratings. Now what matters more is the level of social engagement around the content.”

This is a mantra Twitter has long been repeating to the TV industry, even more so since its partnership last year with US ratings firm Nielsen on a social media engagement tracker that ranks the most Tweeted about shows in America every week. A recent blog post from Nielsen highlights a shift in this strategy: Twitter is no longer focusing on how the platform can drive audiences to specific shows, but how “TV advertisers could use Twitter data to get a better handle on the way TV shows will perform in advance”, according to US media-tech blog Re/Code.

Engagement is increasingly being seen as proof of a show’s quality, rather than just large audience numbers. US cable channel FX is the number four network among 18- to 49-year-olds in America, but chief executive John Landgraf is less concerned with being number one than being “the best”, as he explained to US advertising magazine AdWeek. “Obviously we want as many people as possible to watch our shows, we want them to be as highly rated as possible, but there's quite a range [of ratings], and we can support that range," he said. Social media engagement will be a key part of that.

Social media and the streaming revolution are increasing the lifespan of TV shows – another reason why quality is more important than simply aiming for broad appeal in a bid to attract as many eyeballs as possible. A show such as Stargate, for example – which first debuted on US cable network Showtime way back in 1997 – is finding a new lease of life through “rewatches”, where fans watch their favourite series again, episode by episode, and discuss it on online communities such as Reddit.

The social media era is shifting priorities for brands in the same way as it is for entertainment companies. The death of traditional TV ratings is just another sign that shareability is becoming one of the most important metrics to measure success by. We’ll be discussing this shift and exploring strategies for engagement with the ‘Twitter TV’ generation in our latest Industry Trend, Born On The Web.