Does social media buzz always equal a huge audience? Not necessarily. Nielsen, the sampling company which is the go-to measurer of TV viewership, book, and CD sales, has just released a joint project with Twitter which reveals that the most tweeted about TV shows were not necessarily the most viewed. They did this by measuring the tweet mentions of various TV shows and comparing them to the Nielsen ratings for those shows. The Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings were derived by adding the audience for various tweets, including retweets and followers. Thus a tweet by Pitbull, with 14.3 million followers, counted for more than a tweet by The Beat, with .001 the number of followers.

Seen through a Twitter lens, the No. 1 television show for the week of Sept. 23 to 29 was AMC’s “Breaking Bad” by a mile, with 9.28 million people seeing tweets about the show’s finale — but the episode wasn’t even among the top 20 in total viewership for the period, according to Nielsen primetime ratings.

To be clear, the Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings are not intended to demonstrate that a highly tweeted show means it will be correspondingly a highly viewed program. Rather, the metric is designed to show the total Twitter activity relating to specific shows, to help networks and advertisers figure out how to better use the social service to drive awareness and tune-in.

Only one show—The Voice—appeared in both charts.

Here the top Tweet chart:

1. AMC, “Breaking Bad,” 9.28 million
2. NBC, “The Voice” (Monday), 3.84 million
3. ABC, “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (Thursday), 3.40 million
4. ABC, “Dancing with the Stars,” 3.20 million
5. ESPN, “SEC Storied,” 2.93 million
6. ABC, “Grey’s Anatomy,” 2.84 million
7. NBC, “The Voice” (Tuesday), 2.77 million
8. Fox, “Glee,” 2.73 million
9. CBS, “How I Met Your Mother,” 2.55 million
10. Fox, “The X Factor,” 2.09 million

And the Top Ten Nielsen rated shows for the period:

1. NBC, “NFL Football: New England at Atlanta,” 20.49 million
2. CBS, “The Big Bang Theory” (Thursday, 8:31 p.m.), 20.44 million
3. CBS, “NCIS,” 20.02 million
4. CBS, “The Big Bang Theory” (Thursday, 8 p.m.), 18.99 million
5. CBS, “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 16.35 million
6. CBS, “The Crazy Ones,” 15.52 million
7. NBC, “Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick,” 15.26 million
8. NBC, “The Voice” (Monday), 14.98 million
9. NBC, “The Voice” (Tuesday), 14.35 million
10. ESPN, “NFL Football: Oakland at Denver,” 13.92 million

As far as we can tell, this proves a few theories; based on the number of CBS shows in the Nielsen Top Ten, old people don’t tweet as much. Also, this is, as far as we can tell, the first statistical proof of the “fan buzz does not always equal a big audience” conventional wisdom which we’ve seen proven via the “San Diego Curse” numerous times. Now, most of the shows on the Twitter list are reality entertainment competitions like X Factor and Dancing With the Stars, not exactly little known cult geek fare, so this doesn’t apply directly to anything in Nerd World, but it is a fascinating metric.


  1. This proves nothing. Do you honestly think there is a correlation between people with Nielson boxes and active Twitter users?

    The Nielson box people specifically target people who are considered “average” to represent the US so comparing them against any service that skews in any direction is silly. I imagine the average twitter user is more educated, younger, tech savvy and doesn’t watch TV via cable.

  2. “this is as far as we can tell the first statistical proof of the “fan buzz does not always equal a big audience”

    But doesn’t this also make an argument for there being more than one metric for success? If a million people tweet that they watched a show, but none of those people are Nielsen families, do those viewers not exist? Is no one truly watching that show that matters?

  3. I should add here the caveat that Nielsen’s best interests are to keep its ratings supreme, so there is perhaps a bit of misdirection going on here.

  4. I think there’s also a huge difference in the types of shows in each list. The Twitter list includes shows with major plot arcs or with competitions–as a result, there’s something people are reacting to. But most of the shows on the Nielsen list are procedurals or sitcoms, which make their high audiences with comfortable repetition and formulas. So there’s less to respond to.

  5. fascinating too that BIG Bang, the “geek show”, doesn’t rate high on the Twitter list—how do you explain that?

  6. “The biggest fan chatter doesn’t equal the biggest audience”

    That became clear when “Snakes on a Plane” flopped in theaters, after fans spent almost a year constantly chattering about it online. Fan chatter couldn’t turn “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” into a box-office hit, either.

  7. @Other671 and @Zach
    I have a friend who says “Big Bang Theory” is like blackface for nerds. Nothing more than people pretending to be something they’re not and being offensive while doing it.
    I hate when my father in law asks me about something he heard about on BBT and then tells me what Sheldon thinks about it…

  8. Does Nielsen ratings include viewing from pirate sources? There is one area where a huge disconnect would be.

    Also, no it doesn’t surprise me that a popular, longstanding formula favourite like NCIS wouldn’t generate that much twitter traffic.

  9. Another thing not taken into account is L+3 and L+7 data. Millions of users timeshift shows via DVR, Hulu, Roku, etc. Of the 12 million viewers that watched Agents of SHIELD last week, 8.6 million watched the night of, while another 3.4 million watched over the course of the next three days. The list above only reflects live numbers.

  10. The only thing about the time shift data is that it doesn’t really impact the advertising rates for the “live showings”; that data is more useful for hulu or whoever to set their rates (which seems to be standard across the platform- which is why it’s cheaper. I guess I’m just saying yes, clearly it’s incomplete data for viewership, but trending on twitter and Nielsen are time based metrics. I’d be interested in seeing what window of time was used to measure “tweets about the finale”.

  11. @other671: Because BBT isn’t about nerd or culture anymore. It has become a typical sit com that is partly a soap. They went from completely nerdy and wonderful scenes of discussing whether Lois Lane would be chopped to pieces when Superman rescued her in the first movie, to men fondling each others breasts.

    @BDuty6: I used to love BBT up until season 4. My feelings about what you say is that the show were on the geeks side, even if they made fun of geek like culture. Because the show makes funny of most things. Including non-geeks, religious people, scientists and so on.

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