As technology progresses, television ratings are becoming increasingly difficult to measure. With so many different options for how to view your programming, fewer people are watching things live as they air. They can DVR their programs and watch them later. They can often download a show afterward from the network’s website or from an independent video site like Hulu. Or they may simply view the program during its encore showing a week later, rather than at its debut.
All of these factors are still measurable, at least to some extent, but it makes it more difficult to come up with a single system for quantifying a particular program’s popularity. But the SyFy channel may just have provided us with a solution.
SyFy Original Movies have become a bit of a laughing stock over the years—a status which they seem to revel in. Their infamous disaster movies have found a niche, pairing ridiculous combinations of dangerous creatures and dangerous phenomena in order to maximize the action and sensationalism. Some of their past films include Sharktopus and Arachnoquake. But on July 11, the network struck gold with a brand new phenomenon: Sharknado.
The premise, though over-the-top, was fairly simple: a tornado picks up live sharks out of the ocean and begins hurling them at an unsuspecting town. The film is much like its predecessors in its general ridiculousness. But what sets it apart is the phenomenal amount of buzz it managed to generate on social media.
Everyone, from ordinary users to comedians and celebrities took to Twitter to voice their thoughts on Sharknado. A number of people opted to live tweet the event, offering a play by play of their thoughts as the film aired. It averaged around 5,000 tweets per minute, and a total of 387,000 social media mentions by the time it was through.
The implications of this are twofold. First of all, it provides a new system for gauging the popularity of a content event. It can be applied just as easily to online programming as to television, and it doesn’t matter how, where or when viewers watch it, as tweets are cumulative.
Second of all, this same method of measuring a program’s popularity can also help increase it. Viewers who were inclined to dismiss Sharknado as just another bit of SyFy silliness saw all of the buzz on Twitter and were convinced it might be worth a look after all, either tuning in late or catching it on a repeat viewing.
This new ratings method is being applied to other programs as well. When HBO’s Game of Thrones aired its shocking and highly controversial “Red Wedding” episode, it was heralded not as the highest rated, but as the most social episode of any HBO show in history—with Twitter mentions that exceeded even Sharknado.
Social media is the new yardstick of content popularity. Which is all the more reason for marketers to be well-versed in how to use it. Creating the content that people like and want is still essential for promoting a brand. But even more important is creating the content that people talk about. That’s the Sharknado Effect.