Facebook Sports Stadium
Courtesy of Facebook

Social giant cites Nielsen research showing correlation between football TV ratings and posts, shares

Facebook, even as it angles to siphon money away from TV ad budgets, is trying to show networks and other media partners that it can drive consumers to the small screen.

On the cusp of Super Bowl 50, the social giant is touting the results of a study it commissioned from Nielsen analyzing nine nationally broadcast regular-season NFL games last October and November. Among the findings: The volume of Facebook shares and posts 15 minutes prior to kickoff strongly correlated with first-minute TV audience.

Facebook’s goal with the research is to position itself as a powerful second-screen companion to live TV — a space Twitter has pursued aggressively. Last month, Nielsen announced a deal with Facebook to expand Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings to include Facebook’s topic data in the new Nielsen Social Content Ratings measuring activity related to TV and over-the-top video content.

“We believe that fan engagement and content sharing at this scale, distributed to millions more via friend networks on Facebook, drives awareness and tune-in for live sports broadcasts,” said Dan Reed, Facebook’s head of global sports partnerships.

Facebook estimates that 65 million unique users shared about last year’s Super Bowl XLIX, making it the service’s most-discussed sporting event globally in 2015.

The company revealed the results of the Facebook-funded Nielsen study on the heels of launching Sports Stadium (pictured above), a new section aggregating posts, videos, commentary and other content for live sports. Facebook says it’s going to continue to invest in other real-time content initiatives.

According to the Nielsen study, Facebook Shares and Posts were the two types of Facebook interactions with the strongest statistical relationship to TV viewership in the first minute of an NFL broadcast. An increase of one Post within the 15-minute period before the game correlated to approximately 250 additional TV viewers in the first minute, while an additional Share correlated to 1,000 viewers in the same time frame, the study found.

In addition, Facebook Shares correlated with subsequent increases in TV viewership. For Sunday night NFL games, the association was greater after the first 25 minutes of the broadcast, according to the Nielsen data.

Of course, correlation doesn’t prove causality: It’s possible that Facebook usage simply reflects the interest of NFL fans who were planning to watch the game anyway. Moreover, Nielsen analyzed only nine NFL telecasts; a broader survey of regular-season games may have shown a weaker tie to the volume of Facebook football jawing.

But it’s not the first research that suggests TV viewership and social activity are linked. For example, a 2014 study by Twitter and Fox found that 92% of Twitter users have taken immediate an action (like tune to live TV) after seeing a tweet about a TV show.

Meanwhile, Nielsen found that Facebook activity can extend the life of live NFL games after they end. While average TV viewership drops off in the final minutes of an NFL game, the inverse is true of Facebook activity, according to the study. “NFL fans join the social conversation on Facebook in real time during a live game, and then continue to discuss their favorite moments, plays and players after the final whistle blows,” Reed said.

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