Every year, Nielsen’s television ratings confirm what we already know: When it comes to the small screen, sports is king. Now, a new tool from the media metrics firm shows that sports’ rule extends to the second screen and beyond.
According to Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings, sports fans drive the majority of Twitter engagement surrounding major television broadcasts. Launched in September 2013, the tool measures the reach of TV-centric tweets both in terms of “authors” -- those who send out the initial tweets -- and “audience” -- the broader set of users who actually view the tweets.
The results are pretty much what you’d expect. From September through the end of 2013, sports programming dominated the conversation on Twitter, comprising 50 percent of tweets about television. Twelve out of 20 of the most tweeted broadcasts were sports events, which also drove deeper engagement among users. The average person saw 32 tweets about the most social sports events, compared to 25 for non-sports special event programming and nine for series premieres.
Nielsen’s data can also provide insights within the sports industry itself. To nobody’s surprise, football reigns supreme; since NTTR’s launch, eight of the top 10 sports broadcasts in terms of unique audience were football-related. Super Bowl XLVIII tops the list, followed by the NFC Championship, the AFC Championship and the BCS National Championship. The Winter Olympics opening ceremony rounds out the top-five -- great news for NBC, as the company went all out to combat declining TV ratings with a comprehensive social strategy that included live-streaming and an active Twitter presence. NTTR’s data were also positive for the NBA, with last month’s All-Star Game placing seventh, perhaps indicative of the league’s presence among younger sports fans. According to Nielsen’s 2013 Year in Sports Media report, viewers 34 and under made up 45 percent of the total audience for regular season NBA games.
One league that should be somewhat concerned: Major League Baseball. In addition to the fourth-worst television ratings in history, the 2013 World Series failed to crack the top 10 in Twitter engagement. That’s troubling given the matchup between teams from major media markets in Boston and St. Louis that have especially engaged and long-standing fanbases, in addition to the nationally compelling “Boston Strong” storyline following the Boston Marathon bombing.
It’s also disappointing for a league that has been ahead of the curve when it comes to sports and technology. MLB Advanced Media has been widely praised for its mobile innovation; the MLB At Bat app is far and away the best sports app on the market, the highest grossing sports app on iOS and the only sports app to place among the top-100 grossing apps on both the iPhone and iPad. Digital properties such as the Fan Cave and Cut4 are similarly recognized for the quality of their content, while the recent announcement of an innovative new player tracking system has generated massive buzz.
The league’s struggle to translate its valiant social efforts into increased engagement is indicative of its aging audience: According to Nielsen, half of all baseball fans are 55 and older. As viewership quickly migrates from television to streaming, MLB will have to figure out a way to capture the short attention span of the millennial.
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