Traditionally, a TV show’s success has been judged by its Nielsen ratings. But now more and more, a show’s social cachet plays heavily into the definition of ‘success.’ Measurements including how many fans a show has, the level of conversation surrounding a show, and fan engagement (offline and online) have all become part of the equation for a show’s ‘reach’— instead of just how many people tuned in to watch.
TV shows that rank high on the social rankings aren’t necessarily the most highly rated– CW’s Vampire Diaries is often one of the most ‘social’ TV shows of the week, yet ratings are negligible. By Nielsen standards, the show ranks as the 122nd most popular broadcast show in the key 18-49 demographic. That’s behind the perennially low rated (but cult favorites) 30 Rock and Community. So how, against competition with a stronger ‘reach’ and ‘popularity’ (in traditional Nielsen terms), do shows like Vampire Diaries, 30 Rock, and Community attract advertisers? These shos point to their highly engaged, social fan bases as a way for an advertiser to extend their reach. And if a show can continue to create conversation after the initial primetime airing, then arguably, an advertiser can reach a greater (and more engaged) base than with a traditional ad buy.
The Vampire Diaries rewards its most social fans (and extends its reach) by ‘rehashing‘ each new episode as an online webisode. The latest episode gets presented as a highlight reel, ‘a weekly roundup of [fans] best reactions to the latest episode.’ The webisode gets posted on the show’s microsite and Facebook page, and the host of the webisode (one of the stars of the show) calls out fans by name. Fan comments are shown next to a scene from the episode, creating incentive for fans to tweet during the show as well as watch the webisode online later to catch their 15 seconds of fame.
The ‘rehash’ also gives advertisers the opportunity to reach viewers across multiple platforms. AT&T, an in-show advertiser, presents the ‘rehash.’ But instead of airing a typical preroll ad before the webisode starts, AT&T takes a backseat to the content, with the host simply reminding fans that the show is presented by AT&T. The approach creates a more natural viewing environment, and although AT&T is mentioned several times during the 4 minute show, it never feels like the advertiser is hijacking the content. While buying Vampire Diaries across multiple platforms will never give AT&T the same exposure as say, buying a spot in the Super Bowl, integration with the popular show on multiple platforms gives the brand access to a younger, more engaged audience.
Vampire Diaries distinguishes itself from competitors with this multi-platform ’360′ approach, showing advertisers the benefit of a small, but social audience. The strategy also brings into question the future of TV ratings and the best way to judge a TV show’s popularity.