Commentary

Crashing Twitter

The 2014 Oscars will long be remembered for the selfie that crashed Twitter and set a new high point for engagement. This was a watershed event in TV history, but it’s just the tip of a huge iceberg. The social TV phenomenon is growing mass, night after night, most of it below the industry radar.

It’s time we widened the radar screen to recognize it.

In much the same way as the NFL’s decibel meter measures the cacophony of a stadium, Twitter provides a meter of cachet and commitment. Audiences of scale are uniting across multiple screens, and social media gives us an inherent tracking system for the momentum it creates. That's for all content, programs and ads alike.

This isn’t what was supposed to happen. Digital was supposed to make an irrevocable division into smaller, asynchronous groups. But media pundits missed something in the fundamental physics of human behavior: our need to connect, commune and communicate. We’re using the tools of micro-specialization for hyper engagement around common conversations.

While I won’t argue with anyone heralding a new golden age for TV, I’ll point to great storytelling as the driver. The sheer amount of data that we’re exposed to makes storytelling more fulfilling on two levels — engaging with stories and using stories to engage with others. We’re seeing the effects across media. Twitter, for one, is betting a $50 billion valuation on it. Twitter has quickly become the VIP tent at the main event. You’re part of the cool crowd if you get inside.

You can’t stage the Oscars every Sunday night. So the question is, where can I find this level of audience commitment reliably? And where can I find it self-directed (not prompted, as Ellen asked viewers to “retweet this so we can crash Twitter”)? The answer: every night on TV.

The "Breaking Bad" finale attracted 10.3 million viewers who generated nearly 7 million social-media interactions. The 2013 season finale of "Pretty Little Liars," though smaller, was even more intense: 3.3 million viewers with 1.9 million tweets alone. Adjusted for scale, "Liars" beat the Oscars on a tweets-per-viewer basis by 70% (.58 tweets/viewer to .34 tweets/viewer). Similar dynamics propel cable programs to the top of Nielsen’s Social TV listings week after week.

The more micro-channels the Internet creates, the more advertisers crave meaningful masses assembled around content they are commited to in order to sell more stuff. As Twitter expands its reporting, we’ll soon be able to map the full chain of conversation that spreads around all content — including advertising — in real time and connect it to real people with real spending power. One of the things we’ll see is that these people are more engaged with programs and ads when they multiscreen.

For advertisers, it will come as good news that the source of all-screen commitment is a channel they already know and trust. Serialized stories on TV attract predictable audience bases of real people they can plan against. The smart money puts that energy source at the center of a strategy.

 

 

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