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The Show That Beats 'American Idol': Inside the Exploding Popularity of 'The Big Bang Theory'

Bluefin Labs Tracks the Hotter-Than-Ever Sitcom

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It wasn't that long ago that it seemed like nothing could overcome "American Idol." But this season the long-in-the-tooth reality competition is getting beat not by any number of upstart copycat karaoke shows but by a sitcom: CBS's "The Big Bang Theory." (See details on the ratings in their common half hour over at TV by the Numbers.) The show's hotter than ever in its fifth season. What gives? Ad Age worked with our editorial partner Bluefin Labs, the Cambridge-Mass.-based social-TV analytics company, to take a look at the social-TV profile for the show.

Scroll down below the infographic for some notes and context.

The Big        Bang Theory social media chart

  • According to Bluefin, the average number of social-media comments for the first six episodes of "The Big Bang Theory" in 2012 almost quadrupled in a year-over-year comparison.
  • The average number of social-media commenters for "BBT" more than quintupled year-over-year.
  • On average, Nielsen ratings numbers for the first six episodes of "BBT" are up 22 % year-over-year.
  • It's worth noting that "American Idol" still has a much bigger overall social-TV footprint than "BBT." "Idol" has had an average, so far this season, of about 110,000 social-media comments per episode as tracked by Bluefin Labs, vs. 12,000 for "BBT." Why? For starters, "Idol" typically airs twice a week (Wednesdays and Thursdays) in prime time, with shows ranging from one to two hours. It's also a matter of genre. Mike Guigli, who led the Bluefin data team that crunched the numbers for our analysis: " 'The Big Bang Theory' is a scripted comedy and therefore inherently prompts fewer social-media comments." As we've noted in this space before, reality-competition shows just have a lot more social-TV hooks baked into their formats, including celebrity judges, contestants to support or scorn, triumphs, eliminations, etc.
  • So what do "BBT" fans talk about when they're talking about "BBT"? Bluefin did an in-depth topic analysis for the episode that was broadcast Feb. 16. See the breakouts in our chart. It's notable that the most common type of comment about the show is more or less a declaration to the world that , hey, I'm watching this show! (e.g., "When i watch the big bang theory while i do my home work i feel wayyyy smarter lol"). Other comments tend to have to do with quoting funny dialogue and ticking off specific narrative points -- like the "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock" game that the Sheldon character introduced ages ago on the show but which got prominent play again in the Feb. 16 episode. Sample comment: "OMG! Kripke messing with Sheldon through 'Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock' = Love. #BigBangTheory."

Stay tuned to AdAge.com for more data from Bluefin Labs. For more about Bluefin, visit their website.

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

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