Guest Post: The Convergence of Social Media and TV

Today’s guest post on Discovery Blog is from Pam Pearce, Senior Director of Ad Sales Research, for Discovery Communications.

Discovery Communications LogoTV watching has always been an inherently social experience. However, over the past few years, the rapid growth of social media platforms and the recognition of this by programmers has significantly changed the way many viewers watch television. According to Nielsen, nearly half of U.S. smartphone and tablet owners use their devices as second screens daily while watching TV. Among those engaging with a second screen, half of them visit social media sites.  As networks explore new ways to engage with audiences, custom hash tags, real-time engagement with talent and socially enhanced shows have quickly become the norm.

In an effort to deepen our understanding of the various ways in which social media and TV intersect, Discovery’s Curiosity Lab took a look at two recent Discovery Channel events – Shark Week and Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda. Two surveys were conducted to determine how viewers interacted socially with the programs and what effects social conversations had on their viewing behavior. The results of these studies highlight several of the many ways social media can impact TV audiences.

Social Media, Tune-in and Enhanced Engagement

Throughout its 26-year history, the popularity of Shark Week has extended beyond just the TV viewing experience. In recent years, the buzz around Shark Week has continued to grow; although much of the water-cooler conversation has now moved online (the annual event generated 2.6 million Tweets from August 4-10, a 63% increase over 2012).

Not too surprisingly, the results of the Curiosity Lab survey confirmed the highly sharable nature of Shark Week. For instance, four in 10 viewers said they frequently found themselves talking about Shark Week, with nearly six in 10 declaring Shark Week “an experience that should be shared with others.”

While more than a third of viewers overall agreed that “Social media was made for an event like Shark Week,” it was among regular viewers of Discovery (those that watch once a week or more) that social media proved to have the greatest impact.  While promos were a key force in driving awareness and tune-in, 20% of regular Discovery viewers said that social media was “very or extremely influential” in their decision to watch the annual programming event, with similar percentages saying they had seen a post about Shark Week on social media (2x more than among non-regular viewers).

For regular viewers of Discovery, Social media provided an opportunity to deepen their viewing experience allowing them to move from audience members to event advocates. Compared to non-regular viewers, regular viewers of Discovery were:

  • More than 3 x more likely to post about the event on social media or text a friend about Shark Week.
  • More than 4x more likely to encourage others to watch Shark Week via social media.
  • 2x more likely to be part of the Shark Week social conversation by checking out what others were saying.
  • 70% more likely to call or tell a friend about Shark Week in person.

Social platforms also helped connect the community of Shark Week fans, bringing them back night after night to share in the experience. The more a viewer tuned in, the more likely they were to join the social conversation. Among heavy Shark Week viewers (those that watched 5+ Shark Week programs), 72% participated in some social activity.

Multiplatform Activities During Shark Week 2013

For Shark Week, social media served as a tool by which passionate viewers could not only enhance their own personal viewing experience but also share their excitement around the event with others.

When A Must-See Event Becomes A Must-Share Experience

On Sunday June 23rd, 21 million viewers were glued to their TVs wondering if Nik Wallenda would make it across the Grand Canyon. For many of those Skywire Live viewers, however, just watching on their TV was not enough. During this “must see TV event” many were driven to reach beyond the TV screen, seeking ways to extend their viewing experience to another screen or invite others to share it with them. More than half (57%) of Skywire Live viewers reported taking some action around the event, with nearly half (48%) saying they had “shared” the event in some way. By the time the Walk was completed, Skywire Live was responsible for 1.3 million Tweets, dozens of Worldwide and U.S. Twitter Trending Topics and a peak of nearly 40,000 Tweets per minute as Wallenda reached the other side of the Grand Canyon.

As with Shark Week, many regular viewers of Discovery took to Twitter and Facebook to share the event; however, for Skywire Live, social media actually proved to be a powerful tool for bringing new viewers to network. The real-time, “must-see” nature of Skywire Live made social media the ideal platform for drawing viewers in, speaking directly to those (on Twitter and Facebook) who were looking to engage in “the now.”  According to the Curiosity Lab survey, more than half of non-regular Discovery viewers who tuned into Skywire Live said that social media contributed to their decision to watch, with 21% saying that social media was “very or extremely influential.”

While both regular and non-regular viewers were equally as likely to say they heard about Skywire Live via a post on social media (10%), non-regular Discovery viewers were more than twice as likely to say posts on social media influenced their decision to tune in (compared to regular Discovery viewers).

Skywire Live Non-Regular Discovery Viewers: Promos


Traditional promos and news stories about Skywire Live certainly played a significant role in driving awareness for the event. Nonetheless, Skywire Live illustrated social media’s value in expanding awareness and extending the reach of the event, bringing a new audience to the network.

As seen with Skywire Live, social can be a valuable platform to create awareness and drive tune-in. The live nature of the event made real-time tune-in an essential part of the experience. Social media proved impactful as it was able to foster and amplify the unique “in the moment” desire for collective engagement seen with live events – ultimately bringing more viewers to the TV screen

For Shark Week, social media served as an additional opportunity for viewers to connect to the content, while it also served as a place for the most passionate fans to interact with other like-minded viewers. In doing so, social engagement was able to contribute to success in by enhancing viewer engagement as well as encouraging invested viewers to return night after night.

For networks and advertisers looking to leverage the power of social media, it is important to understand not only which types of content lend themselves most to a social dialogue, but also the ever evolving ways in which social connections can be facilitated to maximize success. While not all programming has the pop culture status of Shark Week or the on-the-edge-of-your-seat factor of Skywire Live, there are takeaways that span genres. Depending on program appeal and other factors, social media can enrich satisfaction for core/loyal viewers or attract new audiences to sample content as part of a communal viewing experience.