Everywhere you look these days there's an article about the phenomenon of "Social TV". Fans logging into Facebook, Twitter, Get Glue and other social networking platforms to dish about their favorite series with online pals has become highly important to a television program's success. It has also played a factor in affording several on the bubble series reprieves. Could the Social TV craze have played a factor in General Hospital's recent pardon by ABC?
According to TV Guide, GH being picked to stay on the ABC airwaves, as the Mouse House decided to gut The Revolution, helped the 49-year-old sudser top the site's Social Power Ranking. Almost a week after the news was broken byDeadline, GH is still the No. 1 television series on TV Guide's list. Speaking of Deadline, their piece on The Revolution being cancelled, a Good Morning America spin off temporarily taking its place this summer and General Hospital reportedly living to see its 50th anniversary on April 1, 2013, remains the site's most commented on post.
None of this comes as a surprise to diehard soap fans, who witnessed #GeneralHospital and various characters from the series trending on Twitter in the weeks and months leading up to the announcement. We already knew GH was one of the most buzzed about shows on the web, but the question is, what can General Hospital and other soap operas do to turn their Social TV currency into actual ratings?
According to a report inAd Age, it isn't always easy to turn tweets and "likes" into ratings gold. For every Super Bowl XLV, which netted 4,000 tweet per second during the game's final moments—and was also the most watched TV event in history—there's a Glee or Gossip Girl, which, although they consistently rank at the top of Social TV tracking sites like Mashable and Trendrr.TV, tend not to make nearly as significant showings in the Nielsens. Recently Glee reached No. 2 on Trendrr, yet for the same week in question, it was No.77 in the Nielsens.
Of course this could easily lead to the old debate of how reliable the Nielsen ratings system really is, but as of this point in time, it's those numbers that ultimately decide if a show stays on the air — not Facebook impressions or recommendations on Klout.
One positive trend analysts have noted, is that Social TV is encouraging diehard fans of a show to forego the DVR in order to watch live again.
From Ad Age:
In fact, after years of declines in live tune-in, Twitter, Facebook and some mobile startups appear to be luring audiences back to appointment TV. While DVRs unglued us from TV schedules, the desire to tap into the tweets, posts and check-ins in real time may just bring us back.
"If you look at the tweets about a TV show, a huge proportion come from when the show is airing live, not an hour later," said Robin Sloan, who works with Twitter's media-partnership team. During awards shows such as the Oscars and Grammys, Twitter has seen viewers complain that those events aren't aired live on both coasts. To appease U.S. fans forced to swear off the internet for a month to save from British tweeters' "Doctor Who" spoilers, the BBC decided to air the show on both continents on the same day.
This particular trend could prove most beneficial for the four daytime soap operas currently in production—GH, Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful—as they are ranked on the Nielsens by Live Plus Same Day viewing, meaning if a soap opera watcher doesn't view a DVR'd episode within a 24-hour timespan, it doesn't count towards the soap's ratings. If any medium should be utilizing social media to encourage live viewing, it's daytime soap operas!
So what are the daytime suds doing to encourage fans to watch live? General Hospital's executive producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati both joined Twitter earlier this year. Most of the soap's popular cast members are also on the site. There's an official General Hospital Twitter handle with over 24,000 followers. On Facebook, the GH page has over 785,000 "likes".
Days of Our Lives has two Twitter accounts, one managed by NBC and the other by Corday Productions. NBC's DAYS account has over 45,000 followers, while the one managed by the production company has around 19,000. The official DAYS Facebook page has a little over 500,000 "likes".
Of the four soaps currently airing in daytime, Y&R's sister sudser The Bold and the Beautiful has made the least impact on social networking sites. B&B's Twitter profile is followed by just a little over 12,000 fans. The fashion sudser's Facebook page has 215,000 "likes".
By comparision, The CW's insanely buzzed about-yet-low rated, teen soap Gossip Girl has almost 1.6 million Twitter followers and over 3 million "likes" on Facebook. That means that essentially Gossip Girl's entire audience (an average of 1.64 million total viewers during the 2010-2011 TV season, according to Nielsen) follows the soaps every shocking plot twist on Twitter!
From the looks of things, the daytime suds could all benefit from much more aggressive Social TV campaigns. The fact that the median audience for daytime soaps skewers over 50 likely accounts for much of the disconnect between the millions of viewers who still watch daytime dramas and the soaps' comparably flimsy Social TV numbers. Shows like Gossip Girl are targeted at teenagers and young women, who use social networking sites at a much higher rate than older TV watchers.
According to a Pew Research Center study from 2011, of the 13 percent of adult Internet users who are on Twitter, 18 percent are aged 18-29. Fourteen percent are aged 30-49. Only eight percent were in the 50-64 age range and just six percent were over 65. The study went on to say blacks and Latinos were more likely to use Twitter.
Okay, that's enough information overload for one post. Here's a few things I think the daytime soaps could do to get their Social TV numbers up and by correlation encourage more live viewing:
1.) Make sure each of your soap's Top 10 most popular stars are on Twitter and Facebook and posting about the show daily. Get several of these stars (or a social media intern standing in for them) to live tweet your show at least three times a week. This is definitely important on days that could prove to be "Watercooler Worthy," i.e. the day a Sam McCall learns her baby's paternity, have Kelly Monaco and Steve Burton live tweeting their reactions to what's happening on screen.
By the same principle, if Jason is going to run into Elizabeth on a bridge, get Rebecca Herbst to live tweet, engaging her diehard fanbase. Most of these fanbases are highly organized and already send out email blasts to one another when something major is happening for their respective fave couple or character. Use their zeal to boost your show's live viewings!
2.) Host After Show Parties on You Tube. There's a reason why Bravo's Andy Cohen is fast becoming one of Hollyweird's most powerful players. Cohen has proven he's just as much a fan of Bravo's trashtastic Real Housewives docusoap franchise as the hundreds of thousands of people tweeting about the antics of Ne Ne or Teresa any given week. While the networks aren't going to create a Watch What Happens Live broadcast program to better promote their suds in house, the soaps themselves can do so via You Tube and promote them on various social networking sites.
Why not have GH's telegenic executive producer Frank Valentini interview the soap's stars following each major, game-changing reveal on the show? GH could be readily utilizing You Tube to have Valentini go one-on-one with recent returnee Finola Hughes or Robin Mattson, preferably over cocktails!
B&B brought back popular, Bell soap comic commentator Clarence to do his hilarious updates. Why not have Clarence live-tweeting the air shows and then hosting Friday video, Twitter and/or Facebook chats with the soap's cast? Also, anyone who has been in a press room when Brad Bell is talking, knows how funny, raunchy and off the cuff he can be. B&B should figure out a way to market that! Do a fun, video segment where Bell goes to the gym to work out with stars Adam Gregory (Thomas), Rick (Jacob Young) and Scott Clifton (Liam), who then put their boss through the paces. It would go viral!
Photo of Frank Valentini from his Twitter profile
3.) Brand your young adult stars. While Gossip Girl's steamy storylines definitely help the soap in terms of getting people talking on social media sites, the fact that the series' leading ladies and 'gents, like Blake Lively and Chace Crawford, are also celeb blog staples also plays a huge factor. It's time to get the names and faces of the Pretty Young Things who star on daytime soaps out there!
I'm not talking about the usual interviews with soap magazines and/or suds-centric websites either. We're all going to cover them regardless. I'm talking about a decided, Social TV-motivated effort to see soap's next generation featured on the websites of teen magazines and stand alone celeb blogs and sites. These content pieces could be tweeted, posted and touted all over the web!
Days of Our Lives recently accomplished this by having their younger set do a fashion spread for Celebuzz. Teen zine J-14 was the first to tweet a buzz-generating pic of the cast ofJill Farren Phelps' upcoming Nick-at-Nite soap Hollywood Heights. The social media strategists and PR teams of the remaining four daytime soaps have to become aggressive about securing more of this type of multi-platform, Social TV-friendly coverage. Here's a tip: Contact the peeps behind Wetpaint and get them to create a content page for your sudser!
4.) Create more web-based, scripted content. Daytime soaps have been making passing attempts at creating webisodes, online blogs and/or Twitter accounts for their fictional characters for years with mixed results. Now is the time for each soap to be doing much more of this kind of content creation, with the express purpose of driving more viewers to the actual air show.
Now defunct ABC sudser One Life to Live had their "More Life to Live" online segments, there were the "What If" webisodes that cross-pollinated stars from all three ABC soaps airing at the time. At one point, As The World Turns and The Bold and the Beauitful joined forces for a web series featuring two of their schemers. GH's Dr. Robin Scorpio (Kimberly McCullough), who once had a New York Times best selling novel published about her in the 90's, had a blog when she came back to the show in the 2000's. Yet now, when soaps need a little something extra more than ever, there isn't much out of the box thinking in terms of web content.
Why not bring back the Glow By Jabot house this summer on Y&R? The soap is introducing a whole new crop of teens. Re-introduce the popular YA storyline for a new generation, complete with Twitter and Facebook accounts for all the characters and stars. All #GlowByJabot posts and tweets would be geared toward promoting that day's air show and getting younger fans to tune in! Taking it a step forward, Y&R could partner with tween and teen marketing juggernaut Alloy Entertainment (developers of the Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries franchises) to create a series of young adult novels about characters Fenmore Baldwin, Kyle Abbott, Noah and Summer Newman.
Days of Our Lives could set You Tube viewing records with a steamy, summer web series featuring gay teens Will Horton (Chandler Massey) and Sonny Kiriakis (Freddie Smith). While many fans would love to see a hot romance play out for Will and Sonny on the actual NBC soap, we all know how that would go. Network TV is just too afraid to tell a gay love story on daytime, complete with the kind of love scenes afforded straight characters. A web spinoff could be the next best thing!
As much of the story that could be told without causing NBC to panic over fear of boycotting bigots, would happen on the actual air show. The more steamier scenes could be packaged together as webisodes that end with cliffhangers pointing viewers back to the next DAYS episode on NBC.
I'm sure websites like Out.com, After Elton, Queerty, Gay.com and more would line up to post the vignettes daily, twice-a-week, or however often they'd be distributed. DAYS could also film the segments to where 10 nine-minute webisodes make one 90-minute movie, with a complete beginning, middle and emd, that could be aired VOD or distributed via Here! or Logo as a TV movie.
Let's not forget our older viewers and characters. B&B could do a zany, Real Housewives-esque, docusoap spoof called The Merry Wives of Forrester for their You Tube channel. Stephanie (Susan Flannery), Brooke (Katherine Kelly Lang) and Taylor (Hunter Tylo) could all become embroiled in table-flipping, blinged out shenanigans, akin to what we find on Bravo or VH1. Can you imagine John McCook and Ron Moss as Eric and Ridge during faux "confessionals"?
5.) Tell good stories. This last step goes without saying. While the Social TV phenomenon can help a series that is telling amazing, edge-of-your-seat, contemporary storylines, it can hurt a show that doesn't deliver on what was promised. If you don't believe me, just ask the creators behind AMC's The Killing. That acclaimed, serialzed cable drama went from Social TV darling to digital pariah after failing to reveal who killed Rosie Larson in the Season 1 finale. As with all dramatic entertainment, it starts with story.
What are some of the ways you think your fave soap could better utilize Social TV to spike ratings? Sound off in the comments!