Just How Bad Is NBC's Surprise Hit 'The Voice' for Simon Cowell?

And How Effective is Network's Embrace of Twitter?

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Suddenly we have another singing competition to care about. NBC's "The Voice" is , simply, an unexpected delight. I've been watching it almost against my will because, well: Gah! I don't need another karaoke competition in my life! But the buzz surrounding the show has become so deafening that I felt compelled to check it out and, damn it, I'm hooked. (As of this writing, all three episodes can be viewed online at NBC.com and Hulu if you want or need to catch up.)

"The Voice" neatly subverts the hoary singing-competition narrative we know so well from "American Idol" and its ilk by making the competition as much about its judges -- what it calls "coaches" -- as it is about the actual singers. It's also got some clever shtick: the "blind audition" episodes that kicked off the series had the coaches, in rotating chairs initially facing away from the contestants, unable to see them so as to have to judge them solely on, yes, their voices. And so far the coaches -- Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton -- have terrific chemistry both with each other and the contestants.

As Entertainment Weekly's James Hibberd reported last week, the show's second episode "was seen by 12.4 million viewers and had a 5.6 preliminary rating among adults 18-49. That's up 10% from [the] premiere, which broke NBC records. Here's how unusual this is : 'The Voice' is the only new show this season on a major broadcast network whose ratings rose for its second episode."

All of this could be bad news for Simon Cowell for a number of reasons. As David Hinckley of the Daily News wrote yesterday,

Like many talent contests now, "The Voice" was road-tested before it was imported. It has already had a huge season on Dutch TV as "The Voice of Holland," and it's close kin to "The X Factor," the Brit hit that Simon Cowell is bringing to Fox here in the fall. Because most Americans have seen neither show, of course, it doesn't matter how much "The Voice" resembles them -- although Cowell may not be amused when some number of viewers this fall assume "X Factor" is ripping off "The Voice."

More crucially, there's got to be a saturation level at some point for televised singing competitions, right? If TV viewers keep on gorging on "American Idol" and "The Voice" and all the other talent competitions on air, how much appetite will remain for Cowell's "X Factor"?

Then again, last night, strangely enough, NBC decided to shift the show from 9 p.m. EST to 10 p.m. -- its intended regular time-slot -- and I suspect when the final ratings come through we'll see softened numbers. If you ask me, NBC's playing a dangerous game in relocating a hit so early in its existence, and there's something about the 10 o'clock hour that seems inhospitable to a show like "The Voice."

Still, NBC is doing one thing right in regard to "The Voice": It's embracing Twitter -- and the Twittersphere is embracing it back. From the start, NBC has encouraged tweeting by running on-screen overlays of tweets about the show during the broadcast, and it frequently reminds viewers of its official hashtag: #TheVoice. Which brings me, incidentally, to this week's charticle -- featuring data collected and parsed, as always, by our editorial partner Trendrr, the social-media monitoring firm:

Glee - The Voice tweet volume
Recent hourly tweet volume for 'Glee' (red) and 'The Voice' (orange); tweets containing the official show hashtag #thevoice are broken out in green

  • "The Voice" averages about 18,000 tweets per day on days that it's not on the air -- which means people keep thinking about it and discussing it throughout the week -- and it generated a very impressive one-day peak of 128,646 tweets on April 26, the day it debuted.
  • To put that in context, take a look at our EKG chart, which pits longtime Twitter favorite "Glee" -- which airs on Fox, also on Tuesday nights -- against "The Voice." In the case of both shows, we measured a roll-up of tweets (including not just the show name, but in the case of "Glee," character names, and in the case of "The Voice," contestant and coach names).
  • Trendrr also broke out just the #thevoice tweets for me -- because I was curious how effective NBC's strategy of promoting an official hashtag has been. Turns out it's definitely a great idea: The majority of Twitterers tweeting about "The Voice" -- about three-quarters each time the show has aired -- are making a point of including #thevoice in their tweets. In essence, NBC is trying to train "The Voice" viewers to all be on the same page in terms of generating Twitter buzz.
  • Elsewhere in the social sphere, "The Voice" has a long way to go to catch up with "Glee": As of this writing, 13,652,478 people like "Glee" on Facebook. Only 90,809 people like "The Voice" on Facebook so far.

UPDATE: EW's Hibberd is reporting that "The Voice" dropped 19% last night, delivering "10.3 million viewers and a 4.6 preliminary rating among adults 18-49" -- which was "still enough to beat usual Tuesday night leader 'Glee,' which had 9.1 million viewers and a 3.6 rating. ... Overall, NBC came in first place, with 'The Voice' growing 77% from its 'The Biggest Loser' (8.8 million, 2.6) lead-in."

Dumenco's Trendrr Chart of the Week is produced in collaboration with Wiredset, the New York digital agency behind Trendrr.

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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