Everyone seems to want to talk about how social media is impacting NBC's Olympic coverage. "Look at the velocity of tweets!" "Look at the ratings!" "Twitter must be helping raise awareness and therefore impacting ratings." "Social media is the secret to saving appointment television viewing!"
Maybe, but I don't think so. While it is true that NBC's ratings are high and Twitter velocity is also high, the two metrics are only loosely related at best.
The mass and velocity of tweets, Facebook posts and even blog posts surrounding the Olympics have been extraordinarily high. But, if you analyze the content, you'll see that the high volume conversations are focused mostly on interesting stories.
People are latching on to things that they find relevant. The reality shows called; "Poor Jordyn Wieber Spent Her Life Training For Nothing" and "John Orozco Almost Got It Done" were as compelling as any you've ever seen on Jersey Shore or the Bachelor. The tweet volume is a reflection of the growth of social media tools and adoption of a new behavior called, "I have a connected computer in my pocket and on my lap and I'm going to use both of them." That behavior does not necessarily translate into "I tweet, therefore I watch."
NBC is experiencing excellent (in some case record) ratings for its coverage of the Games of the 30th Olympiad. This has everything to do with the interesting stories and... and this is an important and, there is nothing else on television worth watching.
NBC is doing a pretty good job. Production values are high, the primetime coverage is well curated and Bob Costas is simply awesome at his job. Add this all together and you get comparatively high ratings. Think about it. If you know that the crab pots are coming up empty, the rerun of Deadliest Catch is pretty uninteresting. If you know that the Pawn Stars are not going to buy the fake Elvis autograph, the show is basically unwatchable. So, what's on? Fox News and the Olympics!
What I do find interesting about the social media coverage of the Olympics is the content that NBC doesn't have and, to be fair, can't get. People who really know Michael Phelps are starting Twitter conversations and discussion threads that are personal and fascinating. Of course, there's no way to know if any of it is true -- but it's really interesting.
So here are the questions we need to ask about the Olympics, NBC's ratings and Social Media:
What does it mean when tweets exceed ratings? I don't know, but if I owned a television network, I'd want to find out.
When a huge thread is a result of a network shot of the athlete's super hot girlfriend, or the loving mom, does that help or hurt ratings? Do advertisers care?
Will social media mass or velocity affect programming? Is this a feedback mechanism that will affect production? Is there even time for this process to occur?
Is there an advertising role in tweet velocity?
Is social media a new form of instant replay?
What, if anything, does social media do to a commercial pod?
I have a few hundred other questions. But these will do to start our conversation. There are two big numbers associated with NBC's Olympic coverage: Tweets & Ratings... I'd love them to be closely correlated and causal, but I don't think they are.