The writers at Covert Affairs added a scene to the season's final episode to specifically address continuing fan questions about the eyesight of a major character. When Vampire Diaries had one of the vampire characters violate the "unwritten law" that vampires can't enter a dwelling without an invitation, there was an immediate flood of comments and questions seeking an explanation. The comments kept coming well into the next season before writers finally provided an explanation in a later episode. The record for per-viewer social TV commenting is cable program Pretty Little Liars, which received on comment for every one and a half viewers for an episode this August (1.6 million comments).
Program producers note that the huge number of comments over a month are primarily produced by a much smaller number of active social TV users. July's 75 million social media comments, for instance, were produced by about 8 million viewers (out of 113 million TV households in the U.S.). Some consider it important to keep the support of fans who are the most active social media commenters. Matt Corman, creator and executive producer for Covert Affairs put a positive spin on the situation - "Fans who watch the show can become grass-roots organizers for the show... In politics they say don't ignore your base." Others like the chatter, but would rather it not come while watching the program. Brad Falchuk, creator and executive producer for Glee (the show with the highest average commenting last year) quipped "I would love to do an episode that was so amazing you got fewer Tweets."
You can also see the growing importance of social TV - commenting on and discussing TV programs on social media - in the rise of analytics firm Fizziology, which is monitoring pre- and post-premiere social buzz for a number of this fall's slate of programs. Fizziology's big winners - Fox's The Mindy Project, NBC's The New Normal and ABC's 666 Park Avenue. NBC is using social metrics to complement traditional ratings research, as a means of indicating viewer passion and involvement. For example, NBC's Go On generated significantly higher ratings that The New Normal, but The New Normal generated more than two and a half times more social buzz - with many of the commenters starting to quote the show's characters. At this point, however, the value and precision of social metrics is unsettled - at best they can be a reflection of viewer interest, attention, and involvement that can be combined with traditional viewership metrics to gauge public awareness and interest.
That can be good enough for some in the industry. NBC used the social buzz around the London Olympics to support increases in cross-media advertising deals.
"It was a really bright, shining example of how social could fuel ratings," said Peter Naylor, NBC Universal's exec VP-digital media sales. "People were really, really concerned about social being a spoiler, but it actually worked as an accelerant, and when we sold advertising packages, we made sure that for all the windows, all the platforms" -- most notably the NBC Olympics Live Extra app, which offered live streams of more than 3,500 hours of content -- "we associated marketers with those platforms."Executives at CBS note that social buzz can drive traffic to its online sites.
"As we push stuff onto Twitter and Facebook -- a clip or a photo or a comment made by talent from one of our shows -- we can see that large portions of the traffic to our sites are being driven by leads generated that way," said Marc DeBevoise, senior VP-general manager at CBS Interactive. "And, of course, more traffic to our sites drives more revenue."As social buzz reflects audience engagement, it supports the ability to develop highly targeted social TV initiatives, such as Lexus building on the social buzz surrounding USA Network's Suits, and its affluent viewers, to combine Lexus sponsorship of the program with its social-gamification program "Suits Recruits." American Express partnered with Glee, a show with strong social buzz and viewer involvement to promote their Members Project campaign - "a feel-good charitable initiative with the tagline 'Everyone can help change the world for the better, one step at a time.'" The potential of using social buzz to support highly targeting marketing and advertising efforts can be particularly beneficial for smaller niche networks - one example is the partnership of Hyundai with AMC's The Walking Dead.
With most TV viewing research showing continuing increases in social TV viewing (where the second online activity relates to the program being watched) and two-screen viewing (where the online activity is focused elsewhere), its clear that a significant portion of the TV viewing audience will be active online and during viewing. Comments about TV programs on social media services can provide insights into these more active viewers' attitudes about, and engagement with, programs (but not reliable quantitative measures; not yet anyway). Still, those insights can be valuable for some network executives, program producers, and marketers and advertising - helping to evaluate how programs and viewer engagement can match up at meet specific desired goals. We're seeing the beginning of that, with the likelihood that much more will be coming.
Sources - When Twitter Fans Steer TV, Wall Street Journal
Networks Track Social Buzz for Fall Shows, AdWeek
Wait, Who's Actually Making Money Off Social TV?, AdAge