When thinking of must-tweet TV, it’s an outright scandal to not consider Shonda Rhimes’ political drama, starring Kerry Washington as the utterly mesmerizing Olivia Pope.
ABC’s “Shondaland” Thursdays
are no stranger to favorable Nielsen ratings, but they’re even cozier with Nielsen’s
Twitter TV Ratings, which launched just last fall. The third season premiere of
the charts then — and Season 4 has already topped
Twitter discussion twice.
Nielsen studies have proven
that the more a show is tweeted about, the higher its ratings go. This comes as an addition
to the increasing web socialization of television viewing shaped
with the help of “second screens” — that
is, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Whether through Twitter,
Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr, the idea of sharing one’s viewing experience
live and through hashtags is a trend that’s quickly defining what this “golden
age” of television excels at: amplifying the fan experience.
“I think as far as the
development, [ABC Studios] just really wanted to make [“Scandal”] a fantastic
show and social media at the time wasn’t part of that — it was just good
storytelling,” Ben Blatt, executive director of digital marketing for the
ABC Entertainment Group, told Indiewire.
“But when we actually launched
‘Scandal,’ which was in the spring corridor of our season that year, we knew
that social media was a necessary element to all show marketing,” he said. “We’re very lucky that the
talent — the cast lead by Kerry Washington — was very open early on and very
aggressive on their own about using Twitter.”
Blatt described the first
season of “Scandal” as a test drive to gauge reaction at having the show’s talent
tweeting alongside the fans. The interactions received such a strong response
that season two kicked off an entire social media campaign centered around a
plot where the president (Tony Goldwyn) became the target of an assassination
A show as popular and
tweet-able as “Scandal” is due to the sum of its parts. Blatt described
“Scandal” as a show filled with action, mystery and intrigue, making it “something that is very easily accessible on a platform where people are talking
about it in real time.”
The neatly packaged term that
encompasses the use of social platforms in real time when an episode airs — social TV — is not a new concept.
Before Tumblr, there was
LiveJournal communities, online forums, chat rooms — and the fantasy football
platforms around 13 to 14 years ago, according to Jesse Redniss, co-founder of
BRaVe Ventures, a startup entertainment and tech-advising firm. He previously served as senior vice president of digital for the USA Network, where he worked for nine years and was involved with projects on shows like “Suits” and “Burn Notice.”
Redniss said platforms such
as Yahoo or CBS Sports had hundreds of thousands of people on their laptops
watching stats update in real time while watching football games—with blogs in
existence for fans to talk smack to one another in chat rooms.
Fast forward to 2004, where according to Redniss, “Lost” was one of the very first shows that began exploring a story world
outside of a program’s 42-minute window. “Carlton Cuse and his team
created a very immerse world that went across websites and went into different
forums and literally sent a consumer down a path of a really immersive
experience that broke off into their everyday lives,” he said.
“They could come in and really
experience more of ‘Lost’ whenever they wanted to.”
Today, Redniss said networks
such as Bravo and Fox (think “Red Band Society” and “Gotham”) are doing great
work with their social media strategies.
Today’s most popular social
platforms didn’t emerge until around the mid-2000s, but Redniss also
noted that social TV isn’t only bound by the real-time conversation that
happens on a platform while the show is on. “Social TV also encompasses
the long-tail engagement that fans — rabid fans — have,” he said.
And that is where people like the “SuperWhoLocks” (a portmanteau of the shows “Supernatural,” “Doctor Who” and
“Sherlock” fandoms) and self-named “Fannibals” of Tumblr come in.
In particular, NBC’s “Hannibal,” currently in
production on its upcoming third season, is a dark and savory psychological
horror-thriller with a ravenous, dedicated fan base that has thrived on Tumblr.
Developed by Bryan Fuller
(“Pushing Daisies”), “Hannibal” stars Hugh Dancy as criminal profiler Will Graham and
Mads Mikkelsen as the infamous cannibal, Hannibal Lecter. Jared Goldsmith, vice
president of digital marketing at NBC, chalks up the show’s boom on Tumblr to
the inventive ventures of the “Hannibal” fan base.
“In the case of ‘Hannibal,’
we very quickly saw there was a community that built quickly on Tumblr and in a
really unique way,” Goldsmith said. “I think part of it was a
combination of having a fan base that is really creative and engaged and has a
passion for the show, which still shocks us and impresses us to this day.”
Goldsmith said the team
behind the official Tumblr for the show are first and foremost fans, just like
the general audience. Thus, anyone who takes a gander at the Tumblr site for “Hannibal”
will quickly spot humorous and conversational commentary on the show, supported by gifs, gorgeous fan art and witty hashtag puns.
“Twitter lends itself more to
the real-time conversation of live-viewing where as Tumblr is more about the
extended conversation — beyond the time that a show is airing,” Goldsmith said.
As for the future of social
TV? A handful of recent
studies and surveys indicate that teenagers are fleeing Facebook for
alternative services like Twitter, Instagram (owned by Facebook) and Snapchat — but
that hardly leaves Facebook out of the race for social power — it’s still the top
social network for most shows.
Redniss said said a fan’s social mediums of
choice really boils down to what type of fan they are — after all, there’s a
difference between the casual viewer, who posts a Facebook status or a few
tweets, and the super fans who blog about a certain show throughout the week.
“We already have an official
Snapchat account on ‘Scandal,’ and so we’re trying to continuously build the
presence on new platforms,” Blatt said. “At the end of the day, I
think Scandal performs on a variety of platforms very well and it’s just a
matter of what you’re going there for.”
“For example, we use Pinterest to showcase
the fashion of the show,” he said. “People love to know what
Olivia Pope is wearing.”
TV viewer and super fan
culture has evolved quickly and has become global thanks to the outreach
of today’s online tools. Now, more than ever, fans are able to continue
experiencing the story world of their favorite shows on portable devices and
through universal hashtags that promise that no matter how much a viewer
chooses to engage, they will be instantly connected to a mass network of other
viewers and fans like themselves.
While heavy-hitters like HBO
find themselves slowly unbundling, social media and television are speeding
toward a perfect union.
“People love to talk about
television and that’s why TV drives so much conversation on Facebook and
Twitter,” Goldsmith said. “It’s a way for viewers to
extend the couch and have more people to talk with, share with and make
comments. I think as new platforms emerge, you’re going to see even more unique
ways to do that.”
“I think we’re just scratching the surface.”