Social Science9/05/2011 12:01 AM Eastern
TNT’s remake of the classic 1980s primetime soap Dallas won’t debut
for another year — but as of last week, the show already had 117,260 fans on Facebook.
No doubt, many of the thumbs-up the show received on its Facebook page stemmed
from a kitschy interest in Larry Hagman reprising his role as oil tycoon J.R. Ewing. But the
real question, which nobody can predict with certainty, is: To what extent will that social
activity translate into ratings when Dallas premieres in the summer of 2012?
Social-media marketing “is a mix of art and science,” Tricia Melton, senior vice president
of entertainment marketing for TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies at Turner Broadcasting
Cable networks and media companies are becoming increasingly savvy about using
Twitter, Facebook and other social-networking services to reach their target audiences.
Such initiatives can effectively turn avid viewers into marketing partners and provide
new avenues for engaging fans.
Indeed, TV-marketing executives now accept that promotional
efforts for new and existing shows must extend
to social networks. In the case of Dallas, TNT made sure
the show’s Facebook page was live when the network announced
it on July 8. Dallas garnered 100,000 “likes” in
the first three days.
“Social absolutely does allow you to amplify your message,”
Melton said. “You still need to build some amount
of general awareness … but social is the connective tissue
that links everything together.”
Ideally, TV programmers can get social “conversations”
to work in a virtuous circle, with tweets fueling live tune-in,
while millions of viewers in turn share their favorite TV
shows with friends and followers.
That dynamic appeared to be on full display with MTV’s
2011 Video Music Awards. The awards show, which aired
Sunday, Aug. 28, not only scored the biggest audience in
the network’s history, but it also rocked the social mediasphere.
The 2011 VMAs were the “most social program measured
to date,” according to social-TV measurement company
SocialGuide, which found a total of 559,610 unique commenters
(59% share) shared 1,323,922 comments (55% share).
As measured by Wiredset’s Trendrr, the VMAs generated a
whopping 5.57 million comments, 48% of which were from
mobile devices, the night of the show. (Trendrr provides the
data for Multichannel News’ Buzz Meter feature.)
Whichever metric you look at, the 2011 VMAs easily beat
the previous high-water mark for activity surrounding a
single telecast — MTV’s Jersey Shore season-four premiere
on Aug. 4 — more than fourfold.
But today, there’s no way to definitively correlate social-media
activity with ratings. In fact, some shows with high
social-engagement scores have declined in the ratings.
“Where you see some caution on the part of media companies
is, ‘If you want me to spend money I need to see
whether engagement will translate into ratings,’ ” Christy
Tanner, executive vice president
and general manager
of TVGuide.com and TV
Guide Mobile, said.
Some examples of shows
with good buzz but declining
viewers: Fox’s Glee and
ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy were
Nos. 4 and 12, respectively,
on TVGuide.com’s social-activity
ranking overall last
season, but ratings for both
shows declined, Tanner
noted. On the other hand,
CBS’s Criminal Minds (No.
3) and Fox’s Bones (No. 7)
had ratings increases.
Then there’s late-night
talk show Lopez Tonight, which TBS declined to renew
this summer after host George Lopez’s two-year run. The
show was consistently in the top 20 of cable shows on
Wiredset’s Trendrr social-media rankings. Lopez Tonight
the week before it was axed scored higher than The Daily
Show With Jon Stewart and was neck and neck with The
Colbert Report, both of which had far better ratings and
Lisa Hsia, executive vice president of Bravo Digital Media,
believes the industry is “at this prehistoric stage of social
“We’re learning the potential of realizing revenue off
it,” Hsia said. “For Bravo, social media is a driver of buzz
and engagement, but it’s not the core driver of revenue
The key, according to industry executives, is to pull
different social-media levers depending on the nature of
the show and its audience.
“For an established show, it’s about entertainment, and
ongoing dialogue,” Nickelodeon executive vice president
and general manager of digital Steve Youngwood said —
pointing out that SpongeBob SquarePants has more than
27 million fans on Facebook.
Research companies, including Nielsen, are stepping up
their ability to measure social chatter to help networks and
TV producers understand what works and what doesn’t.
Nielsen is in the midst of a project analyzing the effect
of social-media activity on more than 250 broadcast and
cable shows. The company has applied 70 different statistical
models to seek out an association between social
activity and television consumption, according to Radha
Subramanyam, Nielsen’s senior vice president of media
and advertising insights and analytics.
‘WATERCOOLER ON SPEED’
The initial takeaway: “We are finding statistically meaningful
relationships for all shows,” she said. “Social media
is the watercooler and word of mouth on speed. One person
can literally reach thousands of other people.”
There are variations depending on show genre and audience
demographics, Subramanyam cautioned. Primetime
dramas, for example, may have high ratings but relatively low social activity. Nielsen is still crunching the numbers
and plans to release additional findings from the research
within the next two months.
“We are much closer than we have ever been to being
able to measure all this,” she said.
To Subramanyam, though, the correlation between social
and TV viewing is not as interesting as being able to
closely monitor social activity. Having a “dashboard” view
of online buzz will let marketers decide whether they need
to boost or perhaps scale back their social-media efforts.
“You have to know your audience and your brand,” she
said. “In some cases, it makes sense to reach out to influentials,
and sometimes it doesn’t.”
IMPACT OF ‘INFLUENTIALS’
By “influentials,” Subramanyam is referring to the elite
group of users with a large number of followers, who can
make the needle move when they tweet something. Social-media
users have an average 150 friends or followers, according
to Nielsen, while highly influential users may have
thousands or even millions.
Klout, a Los Angeles-based research and marketing-services
startup, tries to measure how influential a social-media
user is online on a scale of one to 100. The company
looks at factors including how many times a person’s comments
are retweeted on Twitter and how often their links
are clicked on to come up with the score. In July, Klout processed
3 billion social-media transactions.
Klout has conducted campaigns on behalf of TNT, The
Walt Disney Co. and Paramount Pictures to promote new
shows and movies to the site’s registered users, CEO Joe
“What we’ve learned is, the one-off efforts of, ‘Hey,
check out this new show,’ result in a big spike, but then it
drops off,” Fernandez said. “You need to keep people engaged
throughout the show. The influencers continue to
drive the conversation.”
According to Klout, Justin Bieber (who has more than
12 million Twitter followers) is currently the most influential
person online, with Lady Gaga and Kanye West
also in the top echelon.
Other startups that have sprung up to provide social-media
marketing research include Bluefin Labs, Networked
Insights, SocialGuide and Wiredset.
By measuring shows with the highest social currency,
“the reality is, what it’s identifying is an undervalued media
asset” if ratings don’t follow a similar trajectory, Wiredset
founder and CEO Mark Ghuneim said.
Networked Insights CEO Dan Neely claims his company
monitors the social activity of 200 million people in the
U.S., covering 87% of the Web. The Madison, Wis.-based
firm has developed a modeling technique that forecasts
how well a show will perform based on the real-time reactions
that ripple across social networks. Networked Insights
also provides a measure of “engagement,” to try to
reflect the value of social buzz that isn’t accounted for in
“The challenge for the networks is they don’t know
how to sell against social today,” Neely said. “And people
are figuring out whether a show is good or bad based on
30 people sitting in a room with a dial that says, ‘I like it,’
or ‘I don’t like it.’ ”
Another startup, Bluefin Labs, formed by two former MIT
Research Lab scientists, is similarly scanning hundreds of
satellite-delivered channels to identify the content and ads.
Bluefin matches up that TV data — 2 million minutes per
month, representing more than 115,000 individual shows
since the start of 2011 — with social-networking conversations,
and sells the data and related tools to advertisers,
agencies and networks.
Tom Thai, Bluefin’s vice president of marketing and
business development, said his company provides live
data on social trending patterns, akin to a Bloomberg terminal
for stock traders. “We can help [programmers] make
better and more sophisticated decisions about what to put
on TV,” he said.
Even before TV networks are able to draw a straight-line
connection between social media and television ratings,
they’re experimenting with a variety of tactics to deliver
additional content to viewers, facilitate social interactions
and draw them deeper into a show’s content.
LAYERS ON TOP OF TV
MTV this summer released WatchWith apps for the iPad
and iPhone, which provide live commentary from the stars
of shows including Jersey Shore, Teen Wolf and Awkward.
The apps determine the time zone of a user from the geolocation
capabilities in the device, and sync up the content
with the live TV.
“With WatchWith, we can deliver curated content and interactions
with our talent to an engaged audience during
the moments they want it the most,” MTV Digital vice president
Colin Helms said. “Our approach is to provide an additive
layer around our shows to encourage fan participation,
without distracting from the core viewing.”
For the 2011 VMAs, MTV also pushed a second-screen
feature, “VMA All Access Live,” to provide real-time videos
and social content to drive viewers to tune into the
The VMA apps, available via computers and iOS and Android
devices, included MTV’s “Twitter Tracker” feature.
Sponsored by Verizon, the feature lets viewers follow the
popularity of the various VMA performers and presenters
over the course of the night, with the subjects’ images
growing and shrinking according to how many times they
were mentioned on Twitter.
“A lot of our thinking is around, how are we going to expand
that television experience?” MTV Networks director
of social viewing Jacob Shwirtz said. Overall, MTVN owns
and operates more than 600 social media accounts.
In another recent social-media integration with a TV
network, The Weather Channel buddied up with Twitter
for the launch of The Weather Channel Social, which identifies local, weather-related tweets and then makes them
available on television, Web and mobile platforms.
“Back from the Ice Age, the weather has been the way
people start said a conversation,” Cameron Clayton, executive
vice president of digital products of The Weather
Channel Cos., said. “We provide this story about what’s
happening in your local area, about how people are experiencing
Weather is using Wiredset’s Trendrr analysis technology
to automatically identify weather-related tweets, using classification algorithms. With the social strategy, “we’re trying
to change the perception of our brand,” Clayton added.
“A lot of this is around the shift we need to make as a media
company from a one-way communicator to a two-way
On the TV side, “I’d be lying if I didn’t say we weren’t trying
to bring down our age” by attracting younger viewers to
the network. “Hopefully, we will see the effect in the minute-
The Weather Channel cable network will feature on-air
mentions and “Tweets of the Day” around the content. It
plans to show real-time messages before, during and after
weather events, as well as while following and reporting on
weather-related trends from Twitter.
SHARE THE LOVE
The two major social platforms are Facebook, which claims
to have more than 750 million active users worldwide, and
Twitter, with some 200 million.
In addition to the Big Two, there are TV-specific social
services, which piggyback on top of Facebook and Twitter to
let viewers “check in” to a show, post comments and potentially earn rewards for being mega-fans. Some of the apps in
this realm include those from GetGlue, Miso and IntoNow,
which Yahoo acquired earlier this year.
“It’s just obvious that helping people talk about your
shows is a good thing,” GetGlue
chief operating officer Fraser Kelton
GetGlue’s approximately 1.5
million users entered 7 million
check-ins in June 2011, twice as
many as in April, according to
Kelton. The company provides
enhanced content through its
apps for 250 TV shows from 35
different networks, including
HBO, ESPN, Discovery Channel,
CBS, Fox and Food Network.
For the June 26 season-four premiere of HBO’s True Blood,
a total of 40,000 GetGlue users checked in — reaching about
15 million of their friends and followers. “If a fan is checking
in, that’s a strong endorsement,” Kelton said. “It’s strong,
emotional marketing from your fans to their friends.”
Only 1% of total comments about a show come from such
check-in apps, though, according to SocialGuide CEO Sean
Casey. His company tracks social activity for 163 networks,
using the open interfaces of the two big social networks, to
come up with a measure of engagement for shows currently
on the air and coming up in the next two hours.
“Not that check-in apps don’t have value, but it requires
somebody to go to a site other than Facebook or Twitter to
do this explicit action, which is a challenge,” he said.
At this stage, TV programmers are experimenting with
numerous ways to reach fans in a social context.
HBO this spring launched “HBOConnect”
as a home for the premium
network’s social activities. The
site is “R&D for us in the social-TV
space,” Sabrina Caluori, the network’s
head of social media and director
of marketing, said. “We’re
going to see how that site is being
used, and the best functionality and
features will be integrated into the
next round of implementation on
HBOGo.com and HBO.com.”
A highly engaged user on HBO’s social networks is presumably
less likely to churn. In addition, HBO’s social
media efforts are driving traffic to its digital properties,
which boosts revenue from licensed goods and merchandise.
“We’re doing promotions to figure out what the fans
really love from an episode of True Blood to sell mugs or T-shirts,”
The next big step in “social TV” will be tighter integration
of fan-based interaction in the programming itself.
For example, Bravo’s Top Chef: Texas, season nine of the
franchise set to debut this fall, will incorporate “cutting-edge
transmedia experience with storylines playing out across
multiple platforms” with a “level of interactivity [that] is unprecedented,”
the network promises. Bravo isn’t tipping its
hand about the specific social features for the show, which is
being filmed in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio.
Not all marketers are comfortable with getting knee-deep
into social yet. But they’ll have to get used to the “new age
of democratization of conversation and media,” Nielsen’s
“Social is still new. It’s still a little bit scary,” she said. “But
all brands need to listen to their customers — especially
when their customers are talking to other customers. Marketers
own their own brands, but now consumers do, too,
to some extent.”
But as cable-network executives pointed out, social media
is just one arrow in the quiver in how to promote and
support a show.
“We’re wrapping social-media extensions around those
more traditional marketing tactics,” HBO’s Caluori said. “I
don’t think social ever replaces traditional advertising.”
The effect of social media on TV ratings isn’t clear,
but anecdotal evidence shows it probably helps:
MTV’S 2011 ‘VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS’
telecast on Aug. 28 generated
5.67 million social
interactions for the day,
according to Trendrr. The
show attracted the largest
audience in network
history, with 12.4 million
CNN’S ‘PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT’
booked Charlie Sheen at the
last minute on Feb. 28, 2011.
The network promoted his appearance
on Twitter four minutes
before air; at the time,
it was Morgan’s second-highest-
rated show since launch
with 1.35 million viewers.
BRAVO’S ‘THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF NEW YORK CITY’
season three featured weekly
“Talk Bubble” live-chat events,
featuring cast members during
show airings. The network’s
research department said the chats resulted in a
10% lift in on-air ratings, cumulative for March to
SOURCE: Multichannel News research