In a sign that the universe may be tiring of Miley’s antics and Taylor’s Twitter feuds, viewer numbers dropped for the second year for the MTV Video Music Awards. The always unpredictable show has lost nearly a quarter of its audience in the last two years; last night’s ratings fell 5 percent from 2014 which was down 18 percent from 2013.
To divert attention from the bad news, MTV is directing attention toward a new measurement of audience success: Twitter usage. Nielsen Social, which tracks social media usage during shows, said the VMAs generated 21.4 million tweets created by 2.2 million unique authors. Most important to advertisers, those tweets made 676 million impressions on 11.8 million unique Twitter users. That means if you didn’t watch or tweet about the VMAs, but happened to read some tweets about it while scrolling through your timeline, your “impression” was recorded. These were the biggest numbers for a live broadcast since the Super Bowl, and Variety notes that it’s an increase of 64% over tweets during the 2014 broadcast. On Facebook, 16 million people had 39 million interactions related to the VMAs during the show.
Audience engagement is a big buzzword for the TV industry; it’s used as both a tool for measuring viewer interest, and connecting viewers to a show to keep them coming back. It’s so important that Nielsen has a division called Nielsen Neuro, which has monitored the brain activity of viewers during shows and has a three-prong measurement system to track a viewer’s engagement with the content. Further research correlates these measurements with sales outcomes in advertising testing. According to the Nielsen blog, “Advertisers and agencies have seen that paid media placements in highly social programs can significantly boost earned media for their brands.” (Earned media is publicity gained as a sideline or extra benefit to the paid advertising.)
Tweets for the VMAs peaked during Kanye West’s announcement that he’ll run for President in 2020. At 10:49pm ET, during his 13-minute acceptance speech for the Video Vanguard Award, 247,525, users responded to the news with the Internet’s trademark brand of humor and sarcasm.
MTV seems to think their broadcasts are doing fine, though the audience landscape has changed. Online viewership during the awards was up 155 percent over last year. Last night’s broadcast attracted 8.3 million viewers, down from 10.3 million in 2013. Billboard questioned whether, after 32 years, the VMAs are still relevant and worth the money spent by Viacom, MTV’s parent company. “Multiple sources tell Billboard that the VMAs may be jeopardy after 2015,” said the magazine, citing layoffs, the shutdown of website MTV Iggy, and declining ratings. The rumors were denied by a rep for Viacom. Indeed the audience for the show has always bounced around a great deal; Just 6.1 million people tuned in during the 2012 VMAs but 12.4 million watched in 2011.