This is a classic "which came first, the chicken or the egg" scenario: more talk on Twitter and higher TV ratings, or is it quality TV and more talk on Twitter?
Whatever the case, market research firm Nielsen has discovered that there is a correlation -- but not necessarily causation -- between Twitter and live TV ratings.
Using data from analytics platform SocialGuide, Nielsen found that 32 million unique people tweeted about TV in the U.S. in 2012. This may have led to Twitter being one of the top three variables aligned with TV ratings. The other two variables are prior-year rating and advertising spending.
"While prior-year rating accounts for the lion's share of the variability in TV ratings, Twitter's presence as a top three influencer tells us that Tweeting about live TV may affect program engagement," CEO of SocialGuide Andrew Somosi said in a statement. "We expected to see a correlation between Twitter and TV ratings, but this study quantifies the strength of that relationship."
The group with the strongest correlation is the 18 to 34 age group; Nielsen numbers show that an 8.5 percent increase in tweets corresponds to a 1 percent increase in TV ratings for season premieres. For midseason episodes, a 4.2 percent increase in tweets corresponds to a 1 percent increase in ratings. The 35 to 49 age group needed a 14 percent increase in tweets to get a 1 percent TV rating increase.
Tweeting about live TV may be increasing because people are using their tablets and smartphones more and more while watching television shows. According to a last year, 85 percent of U.S. tablet owners use their device while watching TV.
"The TV industry is dynamic and it was important for us to analyze multiple variables to truly understand Twitter's impact on TV ratings," Nielsen's executive vice president of media analytics Mike Hess said in a statement. "While our study doesn't prove causality, the correlation we uncovered is significant and we will continue our research to deepen the industry's understanding of this relationship."