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You Talked About the VMAs on Twitter, but You Didn't Watch Them on TV

Maybe you heard about Miley or Kanye. But you didn't watch them live.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

When Twitter was a hot, on-the-rise social network, it used to tell TV programmers that if they worked with Twitter, Twitter could increase their ratings.

But Twitter has stopped saying that. Because it’s not true: A TV show may generate lots of activity on Twitter (or Facebook), but that doesn’t necessarily mean more people are going to watch the show if they see their pals talking about it on Twitter (or Facebook).

For instance!

On Sunday night, you may have seen a lot of chatter about Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj and Kanye West (especially Kanye West) at MTV’s Video Music Awards.

There’s a reason for that: Twitter says the show was “the most Tweeted program since Nielsen Social began tracking Twitter TV activity.” Twitter says 2.2 million people sent 21.4 million tweets about the show, and 11.8 million people saw those tweets.

But if people were reading those tweets and then tuning in, it didn’t show up in the ratings: MTV’s audience dropped by 40 percent this year, to five million. MTV parent Viacom managed to increase the overall audience by simulcasting the show on nearly every channel they owned — Comedy Central, VH1, BET, etc. — which got them to 10 million.

The good news for Viacom: It streamed the show on every possible outlet imaginable, because millennials. And that seemed to work: The network counted 19.1 million streams (not viewers), up 155 percent from the previous year.

The good news, or at least a good argument, for Twitter: Cable TV ratings have fallen off a cliff in the past year, particularly for the young audience MTV used to command. So maybe the ratings would have been much worse without Twitter (and Facebook).

This article originally appeared on

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