Sharknado Social TV Whirlwind

Twitter and the media have been caught in a whirlwind of epic shark proportions. Or more accurately put, a “Sharknado”. The Syfy channel debuted their latest ridiculously over the top monster movie of the same name on Thursday, July 11th – and by ridiculous I mean awesome. It joined a long line of similar campy style films like “Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus“, “Dinocroc“, and one of my favorites in the series “Sharktopus. Unlike the films before it, Sharknado caused a tweet filled explosion on the platform.

Nielsen reports their data proves a correlation between increased conversation on Twitter and an increase in TV ratings. In the key 18-34 demographic, a 1% ratings bump can be attributed to a jump of 8.5% in Twitter volume. Twitter reported that approximately 320,000 tweets related to Sharknado were sent during the broadcast, which translated to 17% of all TV related Twitter traffic. At its peak, halfway through the broadcast, tweets reached as many as 5,000 per minute. Craig Engler reported on Twitter, that this was the most social event ever for the network. So how did that translate in ratings?

sharknado twitter tweets per minute chart

Many news outlets have been quick to point out that Syfy’s ratings for the show were on par with its usual Thursday night viewing audience saying the Twitter buzz was nothing but hype that didn’t translate to viewers. While the overall number may be similar around 1.37 million, what is more interesting is the growth of viewers during the broadcast. Nielsen reported that at the start of the broadcast there were only 1.2 million, but jumped to 1.4 about halfway through leading up to 1.6 million during the final 15 minutes. This drastic jump of up to 30% viewer growth coincides with the feeding frenzy of tweets peaking at 5000 per minute during the second half of the show. While the overall Twitter numbers didn’t blow the ratings out of the water for the network, there is evidence to show that ratings did see a substantial lift during the broadcast as Twitter volume rose.

sharknadoSocial TV buzz and ratings reporting in the media are focused primarily on numbers: tweets and viewers. But we often forget about the other non-ratings benefits that come along with it: a fun experience for viewers and increased visibility for the network. I noticed quite a few people tweet that the Sharknado conversation was the best social TV viewing experience they had ever participated in. Sure eyeballs on the screen is important to networks and advertisers, but creating a good viewing environment across platforms should still be a priority for marketing teams. A fun and engaging experience helps generate fan loyalty. The next monster film to debut on Syfy might even pick up those same new (and returning) viewers when they might not have normally watched the film simply because of their Sharknado experience.

The other important factor to keep in mind with the high levels of social chatter is the follow-up media buzz. All of the attention from the social event has generated a slew of articles and coverage for the Syfy network. Even “The Today Show” did an on-air segment the next morning with a dramatic reading of lines from the film. Had the social conversation not been there the night before during the broadcast, it is a pretty safe bet that Matt Lauer woudn’t have been talking about it. To capitalize on the buzz, Accuweather wrote a blog post debunking the weather physics behind a Sharknado actually happening. All of this is bringing earned media attention to the network which should lead to additional viewers for their programming. In fact, the buzz has been so strong that Syfy has announced an encore performance for Thursday, July 18th.

Syfy really didn’t do anything out of their normal promotional mentions of the movie leading up to the broadcast. They didn’t have any planned actors from the movie on hand to tweet with fans – like they do for several of their TV shows – nor did they pay for any promoted tweets or hashtags. The combination of the sheer ridiculousness of the concept paired with the cast (Tara Reid and Ian Ziering of Beverly Hills 90210 fame) created the perfect shark flying storm for Twitter to embrace the film sending it into a hashtag feeding frenzy. Even the most well thought out marketing Social TV campaign may not generate significant buzz, and conversely, sometimes social conversation can take off without networks even trying specifically to boost tweets – in the case here. What will be exciting to watch is how Syfy handles on-air promotion of the encore performance as well as what all of the hype following the original broadcast will do to help generate higher ratings for the second showing.

If “Sharknado” has taught us anything – beyond being alert to shark wielding weather systems – it’s that Social TV is more than just a statistic. It’s bigger than numbers. It’s about creating a fun multi-screen viewing experience for the fans and by the fans.

Image credit: Twitter & IMDb

UPDATE 7/30:  All of the press related to the social TV conversation during the original broadcast did help increase the viewing audience in subsequent airings of Sharknado. TV by the Numbers reports viewership jumped from 1.4 to 1.9 million for the second airing on July 18th. The 3rd airing on July 27th increased again to 2.1 million making it the #1 movie on cable that day among adult viewers. The 27th showing was also the most watched original movie encore ever to air on the Syfy network.