NCAA figures out what everyone else knows: Twitter improves television viewership

I don't know why it took them this long.

Yes, Twitter can drive higher television ratings and increased fan engagement. For this reason, the NCAA has rescinded its previously-instated limits on how many times members of the press can tweet during a live sporting event.

Though there are other reasons for the change—including enforceability—the biggest one is its impact on broadcast viewership. See, the restrictions were put in place so those tweeting updates wouldn't be infringing on broadcasters' exclusive rights to reproduce depictions of the game. Well, the broadcasters wised up and realized they didn't at all. Taylor Soper of GeekWire has the story

 "The NCAA (agreed) that broadcast rights holders would actually love to have people Tweeting about the game,” [Associated Press Sports Editors President Bruce Ahern] said. “That’s not going to get people to turn the TV off. That’s going to get people to watch the game and actually turn the TV on. [Tweeting] is a good thing for the broadcast partner."

This really isn't all that complex. You don't have to look at studies showing an increase in viewership, or the fact that Twitter has even teamed up with Nielsen because social discussion is a great way to measure viewership. Hell, I wondered about the subject two years ago. Really, when it comes down to the NCAA's policy, it can be looked at within the context of two simple questions:

  1. Do you want individuals who are highly influential with your target audience discussing your product?
  2. Will anyone ever choose Twitter updates over a television or radio broadcast? Is it in any way superior? 

Just think about it. It's an easy yes, and an easy no. 

At this point, we're working off the fact that Twitter conversations are good for teams, and good for their ratings. So how do you seed this? How do increase the number of conversations? There's a number of ways, and people will start with "HASHTAGS EVERYWHERE" but have you ever used hashtags to follow along with a live sporting event? It's pandemonium, a congress of idiots. So here's my proposal, one I've mentioned before...

Teams should seed fans' Twitter use with lists.

Twitter lists are inconceivably underrated. No one ever talks about them—especially people who suggest marketing initiatives for brands. I'll say this, I'm a huge fan of curation—and not curation for curation's sake. It's everything that comes with it: when you're curating content (or tweets), you're listening to what's going on around you, you're rewarding those who talk about what you're interested in and you're creating a network of positive relationships.

Now you can say that's all fluff, but would you as a fan rather hear from a team talk about itself or objective individuals share their insight? It's the latter, always.

So to provide fans with incentive for joining Twitter, and then sharing their insight, teams should be creating recommended Twitter lists consisting of members of the mainstream media, bloggers and prominent fans. Teams should work to provide fans with a ready-made community, a team of commentators that make the game more enjoyable by providing that "virtual sports bar" effect. 

Now, the worry with teams in turning fans onto commentary from third parties is the fact that they don't control what's being said by those independent outlets. They could, at times *gasp* be critical. But really, the positives outweigh any potential negatives. Yes, there will be times when bloggers and members of the press tweet negative things about your organization, but are those really going to turn fans off to your product? Won't they likely be thinking those things anyway, if the situation calls for it?

If there's a team already out there already implementing something like this, do let me know, but so far I haven't seen it. I understand the hesitation but, in the end, getting users engaged and participating on Twitter can be a boon to organizations, and a gain that far outpaces any slight consequences. 

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Justin - March 7, 2013 7:43 AM

Great call about Twitter lists. Everyone from companies to teams to even Twitter itself seem to ignore this tool. Inconceivably underrated, indeed.

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