Ideas September 2, 2011 8:13 am

At least I'm sweet like the candy?

In this post I demonstrate what a true nerd I really am…try not to hold it against me.

With all the buzz around ‘social social social,’ a question I’ve been pondering lately: Can a TV show have high ratings and not be social?

And conversely: Can a TV show attract high social buzz and not have high ratings?

And together, what does this relationship mean to advertisers?

Yes, these are the type of things I think about during my spare time. Like I said, I’m a huge nerd.  To satisfy my curiosity, I did a little digging around for social stats and program ratings to see if I could uncover any correlations/make any discoveries about the relationship between program ratings and social buzz.

But before we get our geek on, let’s get one thing straight– I have access to some really fancy-schmancy research tools at work, but since this was a personal project, I wasn’t about to use those shiny tools for a blog post that maybe 2 people will read. (hi mom! hi dad!)

My free research resources any Joe-nerd could find on the Internet:

Cynopsis, a daily newsletter that highlights ratings & news in the TV world.

SocialGuide, a site that aggregates social comments on TV shows by day, week, and month.

All I had to do was go into the archives of both sources to get the information I was after– every Wednesday edition of Cynopsis posts the top 10 cable and broadcast programs of the prior week in the key P18-49 selling demo for advertisers, and SocialGuide’s dashboard displays information for the top 100 social programs by day, week, and month. (they even let you download a handy excel version of the data!)

I created an Excel spreadsheet that charted the top 10 cable and broadcast programs by week and the top 20 social programs by week from the week of June 6 to the week of August 15.  And then I got to analyzing. (Since Excel/charts aren’t most people’s bread and butter, I decided not to include the charts in the post.  But if you’re a nerd like me and would like to see the data, you can find them here)

Even though I only had 3 months of data, I found pretty obvious answers to my questions:

YES, a TV show can have high ratings and not be highly social and YES, a TV show can have high social buzz and not be highly rated.


History Channel’s Pawn Stars.  The show ranked in the top 10 cable programs almost every single week, yet didn’t once make an appearance in the top social programs.

MTV’s Teen Wolf.  The show ranked in the top 20 social programs every week during the 3 month period, but failed to show up even once as a top rated program.

True, this aha! moment isn’t all that mind-boggling, but with all the buzz around social lately, it’s important to have a little gut check every now and then.

I’ll get to my thoughts about the implications of highly rated/low social and highly social/low rated in a bit, but another question I was curious- were there any shows that saw both high ratings and high social activity?

YES.  Major, live sporting events like preseason football and the NBA finals were able to pop a high rating and deliver high social buzz.  Reality/competition programs like The Jersey Shore, Teen Mom, Big Brother, The Bachelorette, and the Voice also all generally saw high ratings and high social activity.

So what gives? Why do some shows have high ratings yet see low social activity while other shows see high social activity and have low ratings? And why/how do some shows see success on both a ratings and a social front?

My thoughts about my findings and what they may mean to advertisers (to be taken with a very large grain of salt):

1. All P18-49 viewers are not created equal: When you look at History vs. MTV your first thought is probably… well of course MTV shows are more social- the viewers are younger! But remember, we looked at ratings in the P18-49 demo.  These shows were compared on a ratings basis on equal footing, so if P18-49 viewers were created equal, we would expect to see similar performances on the social front– which didn’t happen.  These two shows, while both able to attract a large enough number of P18-49 viewers to earn a spot in the ‘top ten’ program list, attract very different type of viewers.  Advertisers shouldn’t approach all P18-49 viewers like they are one and the same– and shouldn’t push ‘social’ just because it’s such a hot topic right now.

2. Genre matters-  Although Pawn Stars consistently draws high ratings, what’s there really to talk about during the program?  Another show in the top rated programs that fails to meet high social muster- A&E’s Storage Wars.  Once again- the show draws a very large audience, yet what is there really for viewers to talk about online?  I’ll take the sound of crickets as your agreement- there isn’t much to talk about that would enhance the viewing experience.  But take a show like The Voice or the Bachelorette where there’s the suspension of who will go home– viewers are going online to root for their favorite or bash the show’s villain.  Viewers become attached to ‘their’ favorite, and the conversation online is more of a natural occurrence than say, trying to force a conversation about the latest find in Pawn Stars.  Or take live sports where conversation offline about what the outcome of the game will be has always been huge- and we’re now seeing this conversation play out online as well.  Genre matters- some shows more naturally lend themselves to conversation.  I think a good rule of thumb to judge if a certain genre will draw big social buzz is if you’d talk about the show with your friends at lunch.  Have you ever eavesdropped on someone talking about Pawn Stars? I haven’t.  But I’ve definitely walked down the street and heard multiple conversations about The Bachelorette before.

3. Do high ratings matter? Call me crazy, but as an advertiser, I’d want to reach a more targeted audience than try to just reach everyone and their mother.  The traditional metrics for advertisers has been reach and frequency- reach a large number of people and reach them often.  The larger the reach the better- the thought being that if you reach a large enough group of people, you’re bound to reach someone actually interested in buying your product. Hmm… with this group of thinking you also get a lot of waste.  So what if an advertiser bought a TV schedule based on the niche audiences it could reach? What if engagement was a more prominent measure of success?  Take highly social shows like The Glee Project on Oxygen- the show doesn’t fall in the top rated programs, but has very high social activity from week to week.  An advertiser’s whose product/service was right for this smaller, niche audience would sacrifice some reach by advertising on The Glee Project, but they’d be able to reach a highly loyal and engaged audience.  Sounds like a win to me- less waste, better targeting.

4.  What’s the relationship between marketing efforts and social buzz? It would be hard to tell what comments about a show were organic and which were promoted by the network.  Some networks place more importance on social, and I would assume, have larger budgets allocated towards social (I’m looking at you, MTVs of the world).  So how skewed is the comment count?  Are shows like Teen Wolf really organically social or are the majority of comments coming from marketing efforts?  And in that vein, can you make any show ‘social?’  Referring back to ‘Genre Matters,’ I think a network could probably ‘make’ a show social with huge effort- but it would be wasted time and effort if the social buzz wasn’t sustainable without lots of work from the network.  Networks and advertisers should look at the time/money/effort input vs. output when looking at social buzz- if the input outweighs the output, your money is probably better spent elsewhere.

5.  Cross-platform opportunities: If a show is both highly rated and highly social, it would seem there would be major incentive for an advertiser to engage in cross-platform advertising.  And to do a little research about the TV viewing/online activities of these viewers.  For example, viewers of The Jersey Shore.  They’re online commenting while watching the show— what else are they doing online while watching the show?  Where could an advertiser who has put money in TV advertising best spend their online budget to create synergy between multiple platforms?

These are just a few thoughts/questions I had while looking at the data.  In true nerd fashion, I plan on continuing to track ratings performance and social activity to see if I can glean any more insights on how/why social does or doesn’t work.  I’m especially interested in the new shows coming this fall on the broadcast networks.  Did you know there are 27 new shows on the broadcast fall lineup this year? Which ones will get picked up for a 2nd season? Can social activity help predict success?  Can social activity (or lack of) give advertisers a clue as to the type of viewer whose watching the show, helping them better target their campaigns?

And and and? Ok, I’ll stop with all the questions.  If you had any doubt at the beginning of the post, surely by now I’m on your nerd list and asking more questions will not help my case for ‘nerds can be cool, too!’

But one last question- if you’re a nerd like me, how are you wrapping your head around the relationship between TV ratings and social activity?