The number of people watching a television show and the number of folks talking about the show on Twitter don’t really correlate but Nielsen (the company that does the TV viewership ratings) is still pushing the narrative. The company is out with its latest list of the Top Tweeted Shows for the television season just past.
The season is measured from Aug. 31, 2015 through May 29, 2016, and Nielsen claims nearly a billion tweets about TV were posted during the period.
The Walking Dead ranks number one on the Nielsen Twitter list of television series. The AMC show averaged 435,000 tweets from 150,000 individuals for each episode.
Nielsen only counts tweets sent in the U.S. for the three hours before the show airs to three hours after the episode finishes. They only include specific hashtags, the program’s names, character and talent names and handles, as well as other program-related hashtags and words. To put TWD’s numbers in perspective, with an average audience above 13 million, about 1 percent of viewers also tweet about the show.
Fox Broadcasting’s Empire was second on the Nielsen Twitter list with 387,000 tweets per episode. That translates into less than 1 percent of the average 17 to 18 million viewers the show draws weekly.
It makes sense that two of the most popular shows on television would also be the most talked about shows on Twitter, except The Walking Dead and Empire aren’t the most popular shows on television.
The top shows for the 2015-2016 television season according to Nielsen’s own ratings were The Big Bang Theory and NCIS both on CBS. Neither of the two most popular shows even made the top ten on Twitter and while Empire did rank fifth in the overall ratings, The Walking Dead’s average numbers would barely crack the Top 10 of total viewership.
The same is true for the third most tweeted show of the year, HBO’s Game of Thrones. While it dominated the social conversation with 252,000 tweets per episode, only about 7 million people tune in to watch the show each week.
Twitter also acts as a lens distorting the social perception of other shows, like Teen Wolf, which barely register in the overall TV ratings but show up all over Twitter.
Top Twitter Shows
|Show||Average Tweets||Average Viewers|
The Walking Dead
Game of Thrones
The primary reason for the difference in the shows being watched and the shows being talked about is the fact that the number of folks in the U.S. watching television far outpaces the number of folks with a Twitter account. There is also the fact that Twitter users tend to skew younger, while the average age of folks watching television shows when they actually air slips higher every season.
What these Twitter rankings actually show us is that tiny sliver of the Venn diagram populated by folks with Twitter accounts who also happen to watch TV shows on the night they air.