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Super Bowl, and Its Ads, Set a Tweet Record

The surging social-media response to TV promises to shape future programming and advertising trends.

  • by David Talbot
  • February 7, 2012
  • Tweet down: The Super Bowl generated far more social-media comments—12.2 million—than any previous television event.

During Sunday’s Super Bowl, more than 5.4 million people made a total of 12.2 million tweets or other social-media comments about the game—plus nearly another million comments on the advertisements—in the largest-ever such TV-triggered outpouring in the history of social media.

The comment numbers, clocking in at six times more than for last year’s big game, were another sign of social media’s disproportionate attention to television content, a phenomenon broadcasters and advertisers are increasingly trying to harness. Most of the comments were made on Twitter, which saw total overall activity double—but not rise sixfold—in 2011.

Reflecting this outburst, GetGlue, a social-networking site that allows TV watchers to “check in” to note they are watching a show—and then share opinions and recommendations—enjoyed more than 150,000 check-ins during game night, an all-time high for the startup—and a sharp rise from 20,000 check-ins last year.

The surging discussion of television content on social media is being actively cultivated by social-networking sites, and harnessed by TV and ad executives as way to promote shows and products, and as a real-time barometer of what viewers like and dislike.

The game surpassed the previous record of 3.1 million social-media comments in relation to a TV event—a milestone reached during the MTV Video Music Awards in August 2011, according Bluefin Labs, an analytics firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bluefin shared some of its analytics and generated the estimate that 5.4 million people commented on the Super Bowl this year—about 90 percent of them on Twitter.

The Super Bowl high point, in terms of social-media comments, came near the end of the game, when Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw tried not to score a touchdown, despite an open path to the end zone, in order to run down the clock. Bradshaw accidentally scored anyway. In the five minutes that followed, 400,000 people tweeted or made other social-media comments referencing it. The company added that the Madonna halftime show triggered 862,000 comments, almost as many as were made in response to the 2011 Academy Awards.

For its part, Twitter itself staged such stunts as ad scrimmage, which asked users to vote and comment on Super Bowl ads. And in a blog post, Twitter crowed about the huge surge in Super Bowl tweets over the past four years.

From the broadcasting perspective, executives are well aware that TV viewers aren’t just reacting to football plays, but also increasingly pecking away their TV-related observations and opinions about all sorts of shows. Broadcasters are growing more interested in helping to fuel this tweeting.

Trend line: Super Bowl comment volume varied throughout the day, but peaked after the final Giants touchdown, when about 400,000 comments were made in five minutes.

The reason is simple: “They will say [to advertisers] that they are not only selling you an audience, but selling you an audience that talks on social media,” thus generating more buzz for a product, says Tom Thai, head of marketing and business development at Bluefin.

And advertisers are keeping a closer eye on viewer reaction to their content. (A Super Bowl ad featuring David Beckham modeling his underwear line generated the most comments, with 109,000, 83 percent of which were from women. Coming in second was the Clint Eastwood-narrated Chrysler ad, which garnered 96,000 comments, 65 percent of which were from men, Bluefin said.) By this time next year, Super Bowl advertisers, after closely watching viewers’ positive and negative reactions, will likely order up changes in the versions of ads they post later in the game.

Alex Iskold, GetGlue’s founder and CEO, says it’s possible that something similar will happen with TV shows. As broadcasters analyze viewer reaction to shows and characters, Iskold says, the shows “will be proclaimed hits or canceled based on user feedback.” He also predicted that “shows might even change depending on user feedback in real-time.”

The TV industry isn’t just reacting to tweets, but also trying to leverage social networks in sophisticated ways for marketing purposes, says Gayle Weiswasser, vice president of social-media communications at Discovery Communications, the media company behind several TV networks, including the Discovery Channel, TLC, and Animal Planet. “TV networks are making their content more shareable and accessible across multiple platforms, and are paying close attention to what their audiences want and do,” she says.

This would be a natural extension of the rapidly growing role social media has in television. Already, some reality and contest shows are tweeting out highlights and showing comments from viewers during the show, and staff members at broadcasting companies routinely maintain Facebook pages and run tweet campaigns about shows to prime viewer interest.

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