03/08/2013 03:54 pm ET Updated May 08, 2013

Will Scaled Social Conversation Drive the Death of the GRP?

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a healthy debate around social TV with Adam Bain of Twitter, Deb Roy of Bluefin Labs, Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post, Alan Cohen of OMD and a great group of our peers in in the marketing space. OMD had organized an 'intelligence briefing' around social in 2013 for their clients and primary partners and coming off the heels of Twitter's acquisition of Bluefin the social TV track was highly charged.

The numbers this year for the Super Bowl were staggering, with some 28 million tweets generated during the event with millions associated with the Pepsi halftime show alone. But it had me thinking further about gross rating points (GRP) as an anchor metric for television advertising. I now feel more strongly that social conversations that are increasingly on scale will one day become the primary measure we use to evaluate success of television, and conversely television ad investments as well.

Will GRP's always lead the measurement conversation we are having? Or is this scale in social the beginning of the demise of the GRP and the rise of a more valuable metric?

On Thursday, we were able to start the social TV discussion with some great discourse from a few of OMD's key network clients. Each of them validated in their own way the value they are taking from measurement tools like Bluefin and Trendrr, as well as the growing importance the social conversation is having around their business. And they are not just using the data for measurement, but in ways that are helping them start to generate predictive insights around specific shows and events.

The conversation heated up as Adam went into more details about the Twitter / Nielsen Social TV Rating score coming this spring. As Adam pointed out, Nielsen subscribers will soon see a new metric on their reporting highlighting the social buzz (on Twitter) associated with each show. The measures goal is to provide a Y axis to represent engagement as a perpendicular to the X axis representing reach that currently defines the TV measurement space. According to Twitter's vision, a live event like the Super Bowl will capture the top right quadrant (high reach, high social engagement), whereas perhaps Anthony Bourdain's new work on CNN might capture high engagement without high reach. This new map might soon define success, and at some point our brand investment in TV properties.

Deb and I got into a healthy debate over the topic -- his point which I appreciate, is that the social activity provides a "soundtrack" to television. In fact he likened it to silent films, where social activity provides the captions. In Deb's view there will always be a need for reach measures since many programs will never generate the buzz, or soundtrack that others do...

But I'm not so sure.

I believe that social conversation around television shows will increasingly serve two purposes and not just one. It will capture engagement as it does today but it will also serve as a proxy for reach and frequency. And when you account for the fact that you can delve deeper into attitudes, locations and interests with social data, it will become even more valuable as a reach metric than potentially even GRPs. Through this data you will still be able to easily capture reach and frequency but the conversations will be on enough scale to even tell you what the defined population is for that day part along with other dynamics like what other shows that person is watching, when and with level of enthusiasm.

But why does this all matter? For one simple reason, which is that the fate of television is intrinsically tied to how people respond to it in the digital space. No more can these two mediums to be treated as distinct, separate and disjointed. The engagement feedback loop that the digital ecosystem provides (whether it be through Twitter or some other social platform), couldn't be more important. I know that for advertisers at the very least, it is extremely important. That's why 26 of the 52 national Super Bowl ads this year had hash tags. And in the future, as television gets digitized, it'll be even harder to separate the two.

Will this eventually mean the death of the GRP? And the rise of a new metric like the GRPE, which I first talked about in a Harvard Business Review article last year. I suspect it will but I could be wrong. What's certain though is that the metrics we've had for the last forty years aren't going to be enough. And if the GRP is to survive, it too is going to have to evolve immensely. After all, not only do I care about the social conversation, but as an advertiser, I'm going to increasingly care where the conversation happened, who else participated in that conversation, on what device (desktop, tablet or mobile) did it take place whether that conversation drove additional tune in, affinity to the brand I'm marketing and enthusiasm of the show itself.

All very exciting questions that surfaced during the OMD intelligence briefing. Questions that many of us will spend 2013 answering!