Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Social Networks Fight over TV Chat Traffic ; Facebook and Twitter See Profit Potential in the Role of the Digital Water Cooler

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Social Networks Fight over TV Chat Traffic ; Facebook and Twitter See Profit Potential in the Role of the Digital Water Cooler

Article excerpt

Facebook and Twitter are courting TV viewers and advertisers in hopes of increased ad dollars, but sorting out the social networks' true impact is tricky.

After "Breaking Bad" drew 10.3 million viewers to one of the most crowd-satisfying finales in U.S. television history on Sunday, Twitter and Facebook raced to tell the news media about the throngs who had shared their instant reactions to the show on the social networks.

The companies were seeking more than just bragging rights.

Facebook and Twitter see the social conversation around television as a way to increase the use of their sites and win a bigger piece of advertisers' spending, which the research company eMarketer estimates will be $171 billion across all types of media this year in the United States. In recent months, they have engaged in an escalating battle, publicly and behind the scenes, to claim the title of the nation's digital water cooler as they try to entice networks and advertisers.

It is not only an American phenomenon. In Europe, consumers are also turning to social networks like Facebook and Twitter to share their views on shows. That is particularly true for sporting events like the Champions League, the Continent-wide soccer tournament that attracts millions of fans.

Sorting out which site deserves the crown, however, is tricky. Each company uses its own standard for determining social conversation about TV, and unlike other types of Internet traffic, there is no neutral arbiter.

Twitter, citing data calculated by Nielsen's SocialGuide service under a confidential formula, said that about 600,000 people had posted more than 1.2 million messages about the "Breaking Bad" finale over about a 10-hour period surrounding the East and West Coast broadcasts in the United States. But that included repeat messages that were simply passing along what others had already posted.

Facebook said that three million people had chimed in on its service. But that counted original posts, comments on those posts and even "likes" -- the quick thumbs-up that people can give to a friend's Facebook item. And the service looked at everything in a 24- hour period that included the broadcasts.

"Breaking Bad" has a following in Europe, too -- especially in Britain, where it is available on the Internet streaming service Netflix. But because the episodes appear with about a one-month lag behind the United States, the series finale is a social-media event still waiting to happen.

It might have trouble competing, though, with the storm of posts that raged earlier this year when the German club Bayern Munich beat local rival Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final. During the match, 4.8 million Twitter messages related to the game were sent, according to the Union of European Football Associations. That was more than double the number of Twitter messages during the 2012 final.

The U.S. public relations blitz by Facebook and Twittershows how important old-fashioned TV has become to the Internet-era social networks, particularly Twitter. The company, based in San Francisco, has signed TV-related deals with dozens of advertisers and content distributors over the past year, like Verizon Wireless and ESPN, to burnish its growth prospects as it prepares to sell stock to the public for the first time. That initial public offering is likely to take place next month.

Neither Facebook nor Twitter has disclosed how much it makes from advertising related to TV, and some industry experts doubt they are earning much.

Still, there is little question that television is a favorite topic for users. About half of Americans visit social networks while watching TV, and one in six Americans posts comments about shows during their broadcasts, according to a coming report by eMarketer, which found that people in some countries like China and India are even more active in their chatter.

Live events like sports attract the highest engagement. …

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