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Nielsen Wants to Watch You Talk to Your Facebook Friends About What You Watch on TV

Remember "social TV?" It's back -- or, at least, it has Facebook's backing.

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.

It is a little hard to remember now, but not very long ago, smart people spent a lot of time talking about “social TV” — TV shows that people talked about on Twitter, Facebook and other networks.

More on Twitter, really, because it was relatively easy for Twitter and other companies to see what people were talking about on Twitter, since Twitter is (nearly) completely public. But on Facebook, outsiders can’t see what you’re talking about unless you decide to let them see what you’re talking about.

So the TV industry has spent less time trying to track TV on Facebook, even though it’s much bigger than Twitter.

Now that’s going to change: Nielsen is going to start tracking discussions that people have about TV on Facebook with their family and friends, even if that discussion isn’t marked as “public.” Nielsen still won’t be able to peer into Facebook messages you send directly to your friends, but it will see if you post a message on someone’s feed declaring your love for “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” or “Jessica Jones.”

Nielsen says it will create new social TV ratings that incorporate Facebook data later this year, and will rename its Twitter TV Ratings “Social Content Ratings” when that happens. Eventually, it says, it will also incorporate conversation from Instagram.

If the fact that Nielsen will know you told your friends you love “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” is worrisome for you, you can relax a bit: The company says it will only use the data in aggregate, so your semi-secret will be safe. Then again, if you really want to keep something secret, don’t post it on Facebook, period. (Update: A distinction that’s important for Facebook: Nielsen itself won’t be looking directly at your postings — Facebook hoovers up the data and presents it to Nielsen, in aggregate form.)

The bigger question is how valuable this information is to TV networks and advertisers. At one point a few years ago, the theory was that social media chatter could actually boost TV ratings. And even if it couldn’t, the argument went/evolved, it would be valuable for programmers and advertisers to know which shows generated a lot of online conversation, because … engagement.

Nielsen and Twitter will still argue that online activity can boost offline ratings, but they’re much less noisy about that argument now. The more convincing argument would be something like this: Sure, we can’t precisely tell you how much it matters that people are talking about “Making a Murderer,” but we’re sure it matters in some way. And wouldn’t you rather have that information than not have it? And Facebook presumably feels the same way, since it is letting Nielsen get a look-see.

So if you’re nervous about talking about TV on Facebook because other people are watching, don’t be! You’re helping #brands and #contentcreators. Nothing wrong with that.


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