Tweeting the Shark?

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Cover image for  article: Tweeting the Shark?

There was a full-blown feeding frenzy recently on Twitter. Chances are pretty good you saw the tweets (or stories about them), but not the TV movie that inspired them.

As a television event, SyFy’s Sharknado was great social media – and a great example of the Twitter Effect on programmers and the television industry.

But alas, it was on cable, where in terms of viewers, you’re really gonna need a smaller boat.

It turns out that people like making droll witticisms about “animal meets weather event” more than actually watching one. (“Squirrelwind” and “Lambslide” were represented, but sadly “Hamsterquake” and “PuppyColdFront” were not.) Twitter lit up with comments that fed the “so bad it’s good” dynamic. Unfortunately, Nielsen didn’t light up in response.

The premiere delivered only about 1.4 million total viewers, only 566,000 of them Adults 18-49. That’s well behind the 2.2 million total viewers for Swamp Shark in 2011.

Oh, incidentally, a summer repeat of Big Bang Theory on CBS delivered 8.3 million viewers in the same time period as Sharknado. 2.5 million of them were Adults 18-49.

But social media was the real story. According to SocialGuide, there were over 318,000 Sharknado-based tweets. But these were not unduplicated tweeters. About 112,000 users sent out those tweets.

Again, let’s put that in perspective – ABC’s Scandal had been delivering over 570,000 tweets in the closing weeks of the broadcast season.

The social media buzz for Sharknado did create a bounce for the second airing. SyFy re-aired the movie a week later, and that delivered 1.9 million viewers (about 700,000 Adults 18-49).

That’s just slightly more Adults 18-49 than what ION’s Criminal Minds off-network repeat delivered at 10PM that night.

The net effect of all of this is that social media can have a real impact upon viewership. Generally speaking, the more a show is talked about, the more viewers it will deliver. The only difference is that the Twitter Effect alone won’t elevate cable deliveries much beyond what they’re capable of delivering organically. Cable programs – particularly on the niche networks ­ – won’t deliver much beyond their base, no matter how much social chatter they generate.

Because of its social success, there reportedly will be a Sharknado 2 – or worse, maybe vampire sharks or zombie sharks. So this is definitely not a genre that has “jumped itself” yet.

However, for all its media hype – both in the press and on social media – Sharknado wasn’t as much an “audience-launch” as it was just a passing shark storm. One with very few real teeth.

Don Seaman joined the TVB in January 2012 as Manager of Marketing Communications, where heDon Seamanis responsible for promoting and raising awareness of the TVB, and of Local Broadcast Television’s value propositions within the traditional and digital media industries. Don can be reached at

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