In a year that will go down in history as one of the most unpredictable of recent times, it is perhaps only fitting that England’s shock defeat to footballing minnows Iceland was the most tweeted about TV event of 2016.
The UEFA European Championship game, screened on ITV1 on 27 June, generated 2.1 million tweets from 585,000 unique authors, over a million more tweets than the next most tweeted about sporting event, the Euros clash between England and Wales earlier in the competition.
Data supplied by Kantar Media’s Twitter TV ratings tool shows sport attracted the most tweets of any TV category in the UK this year. Between 1 January and 5 December 2016, 57.3 million tweets were authored about sport, versus 42.4 million for all other TV shows including entertainment, current affairs and drama.
Football continues to dominate the national conversation, even in an Olympic and Paralympic year. England’s group games at the Euros and the championship final took up the top seven positions on Kantar Media’s listing, followed by the FA Cup final, Europa League final and Arsenal’s 2016/17 season opener against Liverpool in August. All these games were shown across a range of broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, BT Sport and Sky Sports.
Even Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford’s league debut against Arsenal in February was more tweeted about than the Olympics, which was measured as a single ongoing event by the Kantar Twitter TV Ratings tool.
The BBC Olympics coverage reached peak tweeting on 16 August, when Laura and Jason Kenny won gold, generating 395,100 tweets from 168,300 unique authors.
The Kantar figures also show American Football continues to gain fans in the UK, with BBC2’s live coverage of Super Bowl 50 attracting 386,100 tweets from 127,000 unique authors, despite the fact the game was screened between 10.50pm and 3.30am.
Tweeting during a television programme does not mean viewers are not paying attention to the content or adverts, insists global CEO of Kantar Media, Andy Brown.
“Sometimes there are concerns about whether people’s eyes are on the screen when they’re tweeting, but generally speaking people who are tweeting have a better recall of commercials than those who don’t tweet even though their eyes are on a second screen.”
When it comes to the importance of number of tweets versus the number of impressions, Brown believes advertisers need to decide what their objectives are before targeting their programme of choice.
“If reach is important you probably look at the number of impressions. A tweet that’s been seen by millions and millions of people can be picked up and carried into traditional media,” he says.
“If you’re looking for engagement in a programme then the volume of tweets and the average number of tweets per minute is of more interest.”
Entertainment captures attention
Outside of sport, entertainment is by far the most tweeted about category in television, attracting 19.3 million tweets (a 50% share), followed by current affairs with 9.3 million tweets (24%) and drama with 4.2 million tweets (11%). The Kantar Media figures show children’s TV, arts and education were the three least tweeted about categories, occupying just a 0.01%, 0.05% and 0.23% share of tweets, respectively.
The Eurovision Song Contest in May was the most tweeted about one-off entertainment broadcast in 2016. Some 1.6 million tweets were written about the show by 246,000 unique authors, with Eurovision also claiming the highest number of impressions for non-sports TV at 177.9 million. Despite it being aired on the BBC, brands including Innocent, Cadbury’s and Tesco made sure they were part of the Eurovision conversation by engaging with followers on social media.
— Tesco (@Tesco) May 14, 2016
Last year’s big hitter, the Brit Awards, achieved the single biggest minute of tweeting in 2016. Some 16,832 tweets were sent at 9.25pm on 24 February when UK singer Adele won a Brit award, according to Kantar Media’s Twitter TV ratings tool. The show itself attracted 1.1 million tweets from 300,900 unique authors.
Aired on Channel 5 and MTV, series 17 of Celebrity Big Brother was the most tweeted about series of 2016, attracting 2.3 million tweets from 13,400 unique authors. The show’s final was the biggest single episode of the year, with 86,500 unique authors sending 265,000 tweets.
The research finds episode two of ITV2’s reality dating show Love Island achieved the top number of authors per thousand viewers. This means that for every thousand viewers, 66 people authored a tweet about the show.
The Voice series 5 cornered the market on positive sentiment, becoming the series with the most positive tweets (49.3% positive), while the final of Britain’s Got Talent series 10 generated the most positive Twitter sentiment (46.4%) for a single episode.
It is important to take into account that instead of talking about television programmes only during their scheduled airtime, viewers are taking to social media in anticipation of a programme airing, as well as when they catch up online, Brown notes.
“Another thing we don’t always remember is the conversation about television offline. That’s an important opportunity for people both buying advertising and making content, and those selling advertising.
“If you’ve opened a tabloid newspaper in the past ten years you’ll find 33% to 45% of the content is about TV or TV celebrities. It’s things like I’m a Celebrity or Big Brother. Advertisers and agencies describe this as earned media, but they focus entirely on the social component and forget the fact that traditional media also talk about [TV].”
The rise of current affairs
In a year dominated by Brexit and the US election, current affairs gained significant ground in the UK Twittersphere, with the sector increasing its share of tweets by 6% compared to 2015.
The BBC’s EU Referendum coverage on 24 June was the second most tweeted about non-sports broadcast of the year, generating 1.2 million tweets. Despite ranking behind the Eurovision Song Contest in sheer volume of tweets, the Kantar Media data shows the EU Referendum coverage attracted a higher number of unique authors – 552,000 compared to 246,000.
Some 342,000 tweets were written by 80,500 unique authors about the BBC’s EU Referendum ‘Great Debate’ programme on 21 June, which featured Boris Johnson for Leave and Sadiq Khan on the side of Remain.
Interest in current affairs moved beyond the UK, with ITV’s coverage of the US election result on 8 November attracting 907,900 tweets from 248,800 unique authors. By comparison, the Kantar Media data shows 862,100 tweets were sent during the BBC’s US election night coverage, by 231,400 unique authors.
While 2016 was an exceptional year for politics, Brown questions whether this heightened interest in current affairs is sustainable.
“This year you had Trump who used Twitter aggressively to the point that he’s the lowest spending presidential candidate in terms of using TV in modern history. So it’s not surprising there was more Twitter activity around him and of course you had Brexit as well.
“As we go in 2017 we’ve got the French general election, which I can’t see generating the same degree of coverage in the UK. I certainly think there aren’t those landmarks there, unless the Government calls a general election,” he adds.
Advertisers need to be fully aware of their impact across channels, aligning their brand with the right type of programme in order to gain traction on social media, says Brown.
The Kantar Media research shows the benefit of buying TV ad spots around programmes that are naturally more social in nature. A case study of the Marks & Spencer Christmas advert, for example, shows viewers were more likely to tweet about the advert in the five minutes before and after highly social programmes like X Factor and Gogglebox.
Brown also warns advertisers not to separate their budgets and create artificial segmentation or silos in the way they look at media.
“Everyone knows almost all of media works together in a certain way and nobody just consumes one medium, so you need to think about your campaign across paid, owned and earned media,” Brown advises.
“Think, how does your earned media tie in with your paid media in the context of TV? Increasingly we have to measure across the different platforms as the content and advertising is spilling across platforms.”