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MBPT Spotlight: Social Media & Television--Which Programs Get the Buzz?

As Oscar Wilde said: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.” He could have easily been referring to social media and television.

Rentrak has been partnering with social media tracking companies over the past several years, publishing a weekly “TV engagement” or “stickiness” report that covers ad-supported primetime programs. The level of social media chatter about TV shows is a metric that can also be seen as an engagement measure.

In 2013, we partnered for most of the year with Trendrr, and then later with General Sentiment, to create our weekly reports on the most buzzed-about ad-supported primetime broadcast network and cable TV programs. The two companies have different ways of scoring social media chatter about TV shows, so to make a fair comparison for the whole year, I averaged each service's score and indexed their reported programs to their own average.

I will focus here just on broadcast prime network shows. It is very important to note that these were the most talked about broadcast shows during the week in which they aired. An index above 100 just means that, within the most talked about broadcast prime shows, the show was even more talked about. An index below 100 means that, within the most talked about broadcast prime shows, this show was less talked about.

First let's look at the volume of chatter by program genre for broadcast network shows in 2013. I've done my own personal classification here (in part to protect the innocent), but also to reflect the nuances of social media buzz about TV programs.

The highest number of talked-about broadcast prime shows in 2013 were in the Competition genre, which includes singing and dancing competitions, as well as beauty and modeling contests, with an index of close to 160. The Drama category came next, which includes a whole slew of sub-genres such as detective/mystery, fantasy, medical and nighttime soap operas, hitting around 150. Reality, the last of the classifications above 100, was a distant third, followed by Comedy, Sports and Awards, with Concert, Special Event, Talk and Telethon ranking far below.

However, the volume of social media buzz looks very different by genre. Awards and Sports are far and away the most buzz-worthy categories in broadcast prime. People like to talk about who won the Academy Awards, who won the People's Choice awards and so on. And sports has been talked about since the days of boat racing in ancient Egypt along the Nile. Social media has just enhanced our ability to talk about things we like to talk about. Again, I want to emphasize that the shows in the other genres were all highly talked about, just not as talked about as awards and sports shows.

So let's break down two genres a bit more: Drama and Competition. As mentioned above, there are several subgenres within Drama, and they include: teen-oriented, detective/mystery, medical/EMT/firemen, fantasy, nighttime soaps and action.

There were a lot of teen-oriented dramas talked about in 2013. These are shows such as The Carrie Diaries, Glee and Vampire Chronicles. Detective/mystery was next with shows such as NCIS, Law and Order: SVU and Castle. Medical includes shows such as Bones, Grey's Anatomy and Rookie Blue. Fantasy has shows such as Sleepy Hollow, Once Upon a Time and Under the Dome. Nighttime soaps include Revenge, Nashville and Scandal. Action has shows such as Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Revolution.

Again, the picture changes when we look at the average index for these subgenres. Broadcast Nighttime Soaps have the highest average indices in the Drama genre. The plot twists and cliffhangers in these shows are made for social media buzz. And teen shows come next. In my youth, it was my teenage sister talking on her princess phone about The Monkees. Now it is tweets and posts from Millennials.

We can briefly recap the Competition genre. Over 90% of the shows were the singing/dancing competitions such as American Idol, The Voice and So You Think You Can Dance. These shows had an average index of 91.

In summary, if an advertiser is looking for broadcast network prime shows that are the “crème de la crème” in generating buzz, they should look to Awards and Sports first. Drama, Nighttime Soaps and Teen-Oriented programs also get a lot of talk.

It is interesting to note that this reflects the conventional wisdom of the broadcast era gone by. It was the office water cooler where people talked about special events on TV and the “big game.” Teens talked with each other a lot, on the phone or in parking lots of the drive-through about who on TV was cute and who was bad.

The technology has changed and broadened our ability to talk with each other, but the basic human interest in interesting, exciting and relevant stories remains.

Bruce Goerlich is chief research officer at Rentrak, the movie measurement and TV Everywhere measurement and research company. Both “stickiness” and a social media index are covered in Rentrak's free weekly report. Contact Goerlich at to get a weekly copy.