Social Media & Television: Which Programs Get the Buzz?

As Oscar Wilde said: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Rentrak has been partnering with social media tracking companies over the past several years and publishing a weekly “TV engagement” or “stickiness” report that covers ad-supported primetime programs. I recently wrote about “stickiness,” our internal measure of engagement (see my earlier post, “What’s Engaging about TV?”). I now would like to turn to the level of social media chatter about TV shows—a metric that can also be seen as an engagement measure. Both “stickiness” and a social media index are covered in our free weekly report. You can contact me at to get your own weekly copy.

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. So what you will see in the following charts are program counts for both services for the entirety of 2013, as well as the average indices by program type for both services. In this blog, I will focus just on broadcast prime network shows. Primetime cable shows will follow in the next blog. It is very important to note that all of these broadcast shows 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.

So let’s look first 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. The “Drama” category came next, which includes a whole slew of sub-genres like “Detective/Mystery,” “Fantasy,” “Medical” and “Nighttime Soap Operas.” “Reality” was a distant third, followed by “Comedy,” “Sports” and “Awards.”

However, the volume of social media buzz looks very different by genre, as the chart below shows.Average Genre Index

“Awards” and “Sports” are far and away the most buzzworthy 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 have 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 sub-Genres within “Drama.” The chart below illustrates the number of mentions of these in our 2013 reports.

There were a lot of teen-oriented dramas talked about in 2013. These are shows like “The Carrie Diaries”, “Glee” and the “Vampire Chronicles.” “Detective/Mystery” was next with shows like “NCIS,” “Law and Order: SVU” and “Castle.” “Medical” includes shows like “Bones,” “Gray’s Anatomy” and “Rookie Blue.” “Fantasy” has shows like “Sleepy Hollow,” “Once Upon a Time” and “Under the Dome.” “Nighttime Soaps” include “Revenge,” “Nashville” and “Scandal.” “Action” has shows like “Marvel’s Agents of Shield” and “Revolution.”

Again, the picture changes when we look at the average index for these sub-genres. “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 just briefly recap the “Competition” genre. Over 90 percent of the shows were the singing/dancing competitions like “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” These shows had an average index of 91.

So 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. “Competition,” “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 lot 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.

In case you don’t know, I am Bruce Goerlich, Chief Research Officer at Rentrak, the global standard in movie measurement and your TV Everywhere measurement and research company. I have been in the research end of the marketing business for more than 30 years primarily on the ad agency side, with my last stint prior to Rentrak in the role of President, Strategic Resources Zenith Optimedia North America. Somewhere along the way I morphed from young Turk to old fogey. Now that I have grey hair and am horizontally-challenged, I can speak with some authority on advertising and research issues – which I will do from time-to-time on this blog.


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