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Facebook Is Sharing TV Chatter with Networks, But What Does It Really Mean?

Social company is tracking interactions for about 45 broadcast primetime shows to determine how buzz syncs with ratings

Media and entertainment companies are awash in data. The hard part is applying the fire hose of information in a way that boosts business results.

Now Facebook is coming to the TV research party: The social service is measuring interactions for about 45 broadcast shows in primetime, circulating the data the big networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — and a few other partners on a weekly basis. The spreadsheet shows interactions (posts, likes and comments) for unique users on Facebook in the U.S.

For example, according to Facebook, ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” recently yielded more than 1 million interactions from about 750,000 users. The premiere of Fox’s freshman thriller “Sleepy Hollow” had more than 350,000 interactions. And for the series finale of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” Sunday, more than 3 million people generated more than 5.5 million interactions on Facebook (though that was a one-off special project; AMC shows are not part of Facebook’s ongoing reports for now).

SEE ALSO: Facebook Friends ‘Dancing with the Stars’ for First Entertainment Pact

That’s all interesting. But what do those numbers mean for networks? Is it worth it for them to spend ad dollars on social sites to support their shows?

For now, Facebook admits there are no clear conclusions TV networks can draw from the data.

Daniel Slotwiner, head of measurement at Facebook, said the company’s initial project to measure the big four broadcast networks’ fall TV shows represents a “laboratory” — an attempt to understand the relationship between Facebook activity and external outcomes like ratings.

“There’s a meme out there that chatter matters, and that discussion about television correlates with ratings,” he said. “But is driving social conversation for a network smart or good? We don’t know.”

Part of Facebook’s aim with the social TV measurement project is to keep pace with key rival Twitter, which has been aggressively moving to try to make money off TV-related tweets. Twitter has been working Nielsen on a “Twitter TV Rating,” which is supposed to provide a measure of tweets in relation to their Nielsen performance, and has expanded the Amplify sponsored video tweet effort through deals with CBS and the NFL.

Nielsen has claimed its research shows a correlation between Twitter activity and live TV ratings — but it doesn’t know why some shows do better than others. According to the research firm, live TV ratings had a statistically significant impact in related tweets among 48% of 221 primetime broadcast episodes sampled while the volume of tweets caused statistical lifts in live ratings among 29% of the eps.

Facebook had worked with Trendrr to study the relationship between activity on its platform and TV ratings. But this summer Twitter bought Trendrr, and Facebook had to work up its own classification system to track TV-related interactions.

SEE ALSO: Facebook Users More Tuned to Broadcast Than Cable Shows

“Clearly it’s a manual process,” Slotwiner said. “We want to be sure we are getting a good signal.”

Slotwiner said Facebook would be open to sharing the data with cable networks, too, but currently the data set doesn’t include cablers. “We’re looking for partners who have additional information,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is understand this phenomenon of correlating chatter to external events.”

The potential audience synergies between social networks and TV are huge. According to Facebook, as many as 100 million U.S. users are active on the social site during primetime (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.).

In a separate initiative, Facebook earlier this month launched a program to let media companies tap into its public API (application programming interface) to see anonymized user activity related to specific keywords. CNN, Fox and NBC are participating in the program.

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