[Line in the Sand] Social is No Magic Bullet To Broadcast

I’m very supportive of the theory that the rise in simultaneous media usage has an impact on the manner in which either online or broadcast is consumed. Brian Stelter’s NY Times piece takes that notion the distance by implying that online-to-traditional media conversion is truly evident in recent media events, including the Olympics.

My issue isn’t with that point – I think the first time I truly saw this phenomenon happen was during the Sunday morning Wimbeldon final last summer – because I believe that an active social media discussion can cause a slight behavioral shift towards broadcast media (although, whether that is incremental or a legit force is a debate that is worth having). There’s plenty of evidence to support the high activity on digital media channels during live events like last month’s Super Bowl, and Stelter cited those numbers in his case.

Up and to these points, I decently agree with him that Twitter/Facebook acted as a complement to the broadcast, and if someone wasn’t already watching things like the Grammy’s or Golden Globes already, there could have been a measurable, but mild, bump. However, assuming that there is anything beyond a non-immediate behavioral shift is a massive leap that the author uses very few cases to support.

My biggest gripe is that Stelter took the time to go find some sources (two in fact!) who said that they knew what happened but watched anyway:

But sometimes the effect works even when the program is not live. Rachel Velonza, a 23-year-old from Seattle, knew that Johnny Weir failed to win a medal in figure skating long before she ever turned on a television last Thursday, but she stayed up until almost midnight, enduring NBC’s much-ridiculed tape delay because she wanted to see for herself why he wound up in sixth place. She knew all her friends were watching because they were talking about it on Twitter (which says it counts 50 million posts every day) and Facebook (which says it surpassed 400 million members this month).


Brad Peterson, a lighting designer in New York, heard about the skier Lindsey Vonn’s crash before Thursday’s replay of it on NBC, but watched regardless. After all, he said, “I didn’t know when, how and who won.”

Also,  just an excellent use of statistics that have little direct application in the first example. But I don’t feel like dwelling on that. The point is that there just isn’t enough evidence to make the overall impact claim.

That’s right, your friendly neighborhood prophet of digital media’s value for traditional channels  is drawing a line in the sand. There may be an immediate, slight impact on live broadcast events that are universal in draw and interest. However, arguing the existence long-term benefits based on an untested correlation between a well-watched media event and Web media is a jump. The Olympics may be doing better this year than 2006, but it is still well below the Nagano games:

…primetime coverage of those 1998 Games, through 11 Olympic nights, was averaging 16.4% of U.S. households.

NBC’s Vancouver primetime coverage, through 11 nights of a mother lode of U.S. medals, is averaging 14.3 —down 13% from Nagano.

The notion that a more-than-immediate shift in consumption habits can be attributed to social media is dangerous. To put it in context of the conversion rates of the channel, think of it this way: I can barely get two percent clickthrough on links I send out to my Twitter followers, and I haven’t done the necessary research to support the following, but my guess is that I’m on the high end of conversion within the digital channel. Do you really think this audience is going to have an impact beyond a percentage point on already high-performing broadcasts?

H/t TV by the Numbers, image (cc) via flickr user Big D2112


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