Social Media & TV – 5 Traits of the Ultimate Social TV Show

Following on from the X Factor report we put together in December, I stumbled upon this interesting study from Advertising Age dating back to October 2011 that deals with social TV buzz versus ratings, how and why they match up on some shows but not on others.

The stats concern American TV shows from last autumn and attempts to see if there is a link between the shows that got the highest ratings, and the shows that produced the most social buzz. You can check out the report here, complete with GetGlue stats, but I’ll not go into those here, for reasons partially summed up in an earlier blog about niche social networks.

So in looking at the figures it’s possible to pick out a list of the main ‘ingredients’ that make up the ultimate Social TV show, one that both tops the ratings and gets the most online buzz. I’ll go through each of them with relation to some of what we found monitoring X-Factor last year.

1. The Social ‘Event’ – The X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing are great examples of this. It’s the Saturday night primetime national institution factor, the show that gets the family and friends together in front of the TV to collectively judge and point and laugh and argue and debate. This extends online as a result. Every Saturday and Sunday evening last autumn, more often than not, your Twitter stream would’ve been bursting at the seams with X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing updates. These social event shows are much more likely to top both ratings and online buzz. It’s the water cooler effect happening in real-time across the social web.

2. Social TV ‘hooks’ – I read a good example of a show with plenty of social-media-friendly ‘hooks’ the other day – The WWE. Yes, World Wrestling Entertainment, with its weekly sports-entertainment pageant of muscle-bound men acting out what is essentially a soap opera for teenage boys (of all ages..). The point is that in the course of an hour long show, you’ll get a whole host of talking points; reasons to post a tweet or rant on Facebook as your favourite wrestler takes a cheap-shot steel chair to the back of the head, or the main bad guy wrestler kidnaps a damsel in distress or rises from the dead or something. Again, X-Factor is another perfect example of this; act after act on display to be judged, and the judges’ judgments judged, and the final verdicts judged and debated and so on and so on. It’s tweet fodder essentially.

3. Social ambassadors – All celebrities are on Twitter these days, and so a new TV show could almost start to become like a ‘dream team’ selection of Twitter personalities; “My show’s cast have a combined Twitter following of 2million.” “Oh yeah, well my cast has over 4million combined followers, so there.” The more big social media players you have appearing in your show, the more of their fans that will be watching, and talking about your show. Simon Cowell could even factor this in to picking new judges. It certainly didn’t harm Two & A Half Men that their high profile Charlie Sheen replacement, Ashton Kutcher, has about 8miliion odd Twitter followers. The fans following the show’s stars are going to be more aware of the show, their celebrity’s participation in it and are thus more likely to tune in and talk about it as a result.


4. Social Demographics – All throughout each show’s run, we looked at the Twitter mentions of X-Factor every weekend and compared them to Strictly Come Dancing. X-Factor trounced its rival so much that it was hardly worth reporting on. But what was interesting is why there was such a discrepancy in online chat about the respective shows, but Strictly actually won the ratings war most weekends. One conclusion would be the demographic factor; X-Factor’s audience was younger and more clued up and active in social media. The older demographic sitting in front of Strictly every weekend, were obviously not concerned about whipping out their iPhone and posting updates, what with being part of a generation who when watching television, don’t see the need for any more than one screen.


5. Pushing and Rewarding – Both X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing pushed hashtags during their shows to encourage online participation, and I strongly predict this will only increase to near saturation levels in 2012, especially with live TV or ‘event’ shows. You could argue that if someone was going to tweet about a show, they don’t need a hashtag to do so, but it’s a interesting tactic by the shows themselves to try and encourage people to get involved, so they can in a sense, ‘own’ the conversation.

Rewarding social media behaviour is a staple of social media marketing, but one that is yet to be fully adopted and endorsed by TV shows. This is where Get Glue comes into play, with its game and reward mechanic for check-ins. But pretty soon, it could be commonplace for networks to factor in prizes and promotions in the same way that a Domino’s pizza would. In fact, there’s a whole world of affiliated tie-in promotions onscreen between shows and brands, but that’s for another blog entirely.


In the end, I think the big benefit for TV networks and shows with the ongoing ‘socialification’ of television viewing, all ties into monitoring and research. The networks concluded that although the most talked-about shows weren’t always the big ratings winners, and vice versa, there was still a ratings benefit in actively pushing social media participation in their shows, mainly through viewer retention. In the case of Glee, the downturn in online chat about the show was like an alarm sounding, and forewarned the ratings dip that soon followed.

But regardless of ratings, and as we pointed out in our X-Factor report, it’s all about knowing what your audience think, what they want, what they don’t want, who they like, who they don’t – it’s the biggest and most ongoing focus group you’ll ever have and it’s all there waiting to be monitored and analysed. That’s why prompting hashtags onscreen at the start of shows will continue; it’s the TV equivalent of the customer satisfaction survey –“go on, tell us what you think of us, how can we improve, tell us you love us”. And as always in social media, sentiment and influence will make sure that more people tune in next week because all their social media streams are talking about is the latest ‘must see’ show, and no one wants to be switched off.



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