Charting the Social TV Surge: 'American Idol' Social Commenters Grew 597% Between Seasons

Bluefin Labs Data Show Social-TV Explosion for Nine Shows

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An audition from the new season of 'Idol'
An audition from the new season of 'Idol' Credit: Fox

In our coverage of the social-TV phenomenon here on AdAge.com, we keep pointing out that it's hard to compare absolute volume of social-media commentary about various TV shows that have aired at different times of the year, because the total universe of commenters has grown so much over the past 12 months. So, for instance, it's sort of useless to say that "The X Factor" had a larger volume of social-media response than "American Idol" last year; that 's technically true, but because "X Factor" ran so much later in the year than last season's "Idol" did, "X Factor" benefitted from a much bigger overall population of social-TV fans.

How much bigger? We asked our editorial partner Bluefin Labs, the Cambridge-Mass.-based social-TV analytics company, to take a look at year-over-year growth for shows that aired fresh episodes in both January 2011 and January 2012.

Some notes and context:

  • Bluefin Labs took a look at the first fresh episode of the year for 20 returning shows (11 broadcast and 9 cable) in 2012 vs. 2011. Based on those 20, the average year-over-year growth in social-media commenters (primarily on Twitter and Facebook) is 362%.
  • For our chart, we split the nine highest-growth shows into three genres: drama, comedy and reality.
  • In the reality genre, MTV 's "Jersey Shore" had the most impressive growth: 612%, jumping to 303,766 unique social commenters for this year's fresh episode in January vs. 42,638 for last year's. "American Idol" is not far behind in growth (597%) but actually topped "Jersey Shore" in terms of total social-media commenters for its January midseason premiere with 355,356 this year (up from 50,991 for last year's "Idol"). ABC's "The Bachelor" jumped 415% on a much smaller base (48,803 this year vs. 9,472 last year).
  • In the comedy genre, NBC's "Parks and Recreation" grew 739% on a relatively small base (7,919 this year vs. 944 last year). FX's "Archer" grew 239% (6,355 vs. 1874). And Fox's "Glee" more than doubled (105%) its unique social-media commenters (128,691 vs. 62,642). The relatively modest growth for "Glee" is related to the franchise sort of running out of steam -- the show has shed millions of viewers this season vs. last -- and also likely has to do with the fact that Gleeks ("Glee" fans) were social-TV pioneers; plenty of them have been commenting madly about the show since it debuted in 2009, whereas for fans of a lot of other shows, taking to social media to chime in is generally a more novel experience.
  • For the purposes of this chart we stuck "Desperate Housewives" in the drama category, although I guess it tries to be a comedy a lot of the time. ("Glee," of course, straddles the same line.) At any rate, its social-media profile is more in keeping with the drama genre, which generally pales in comparison to reality and comedy. "Desperate Housewives" shows growth (836%) that seems rather impressive at first -- but the truth is that its social-TV audience spiked on a small base (21,250 this year vs. 2,271 last year). Rounding out our chart, TNT's "Southland" grew 427% (7,572 this year vs. 1,437 last year) and USA Network's "White Collar" grew 340% (9,524 vs. 2,166).
  • Bluefin's Mike Guigli, who worked with the company's data scientists to parse the numbers for this chart, points out that : "Most of these are mature series. For example, 'American Idol' is in its 11th season, 'Desperate Housewives' is in its eighth season and 'Parks and Recreation' in its fourth season. Although the audience is still likely to fluctuate for mature shows, for the most part they have an established base. Even for shows with stable viewership, we've seen tremendous growth in the number of people commenting in social media about the shows they're watching."

Stay tuned to AdAge.com for more data from Bluefin Labs.

For more about Bluefin, visit its website.

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

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