As Twitter gears up for an IPO, the company is working hard to make the case that there is a close relationship between tweets and TV viewing. Over the summer, the social networking platform expanded a service that lets advertisers target users who tweet about the shows they’re watching. And Nielsen recently released a report showing that tweeting can cause a spike in ratings. Now, the Emmy’s have introduced another Twitter-TV phenomenon that surely has Twitter executives smiling.
All six of the shows nominated for this year’s best drama series—Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, and Homeland—are big on Twitter, meaning they inspire an inordinate amount of chatter on the platform. HBO’s Game of Thrones has a maniacal Twitter fan base that collectively tweeted about the show 255,243 times during last season’s "The Rains of Castamere" episode, according to data provided by SocialGuide. Mad Men’s two-hour premiere of season six: 115, 819 tweets. The much-anticipated season opener of the Breaking Bad finale? According to AMC, it inspired 759,689 tweets from nearly 400,000 unique users. As for last week’s nail-biter, in which (spoiler alert) Walt makes a cryptic call to Skylar in the aftermath of the Hank-finishing, desert shootout: 604,765 total tweets. Meanwhile, Twitter star Aaron Paul’s (over 1 million followers) tweet, "Have an A1 day," was retweeted more than 25,000 times.
Meanwhile, less tweeted-about shows, such as The Americans, which many pundits thought was a shoo-in for the best drama race, considering that it’s been a favorite with critics, was snubbed by Emmy voters. Ditto for past nominees such as Boardwalk Empire and The Good Wife, which similarly haven’t been stirring up much Twitter activity.
Coincidence? Or does high Twitter volume make a show more likely to win an Emmy?
Hollywood isn’t totally buying it—"I’m not sure," says Sullivan & Son executive producer Rob Long. "Academy voters are hella old" (i.e. they don’t use Twitter) he says—but some awards observers admit that there’s something worth considering in the relationship between Emmys and Twitter.
"Twitter and the popular ballot used by the Emmys both track the same thing, which is the popularity, buzz, mojo, and cool factor of a show," says Tom O’Neil, the awards pundit who runs Gold Derby. "So that first round of voting, it makes sense, would follow those same things that are attracted by Twitter."
But, O’Neil warned, in the second round of voting, when a select jury votes on specific episodes that have been submitted, the Twitter factor becomes less plausible. "It’s a very small voting pool that is selected by a jury, and they’re looking at sample episodes, so they’re less influenced by outside factors."
Still, he posited that if Twitter doesn’t necessarily gauge awards wins, it certainly gauges what shows are captivating audiences, which include Emmy voters. "I think these six shows generate the most Twitter activity because they do best what TV shows are supposed to do—engage us and get us talking. That’s what Twitter does in 140 characters or less. Gets us talking. And that’s important."
A bigger question raised by the idea that shows that do well on Twitter are considered more engaging and, thus, well, better shows, is that Twitter-friendly shows tend to be more dramatic and gut-socking. They’re shows that are filled with the kind of OMG moments (just about every other minute of Breaking Bad; the Red Wedding scene in Game of Thrones; the death of Lady Sybil on Downton) that send viewers scrolling their Twitter feeds to see others’ reactions and to log their own shock.
O’Neil says that this could mean, when considering awards like the Emmys, that "more quiet drama series, which can be great shows, may have less of a chance of getting nominated if they’re not generating such chatter in the Twitterverse. "If those shows are not top of mind and are not generating engagement with viewers, then it’s logical to assume they’re not going to engage Emmy voters as well."
Preston Beckman, the longtime scheduling chief at Fox who is now a consultant for the network, is dismissive of the Twitter-Emmy theory. "There are correlations and there are things that coincide," he said. "And it’s hard for me to say that if FX (the network behind The Americans) had a Twitter campaign" the show would have been nominated.
"By the way, there are some shows that do really well on Twitter that weren’t nominated," he continued, citing Bones and Fringe. "I just think it’s the nature of those shows that got nominated that they have very strong and vocal followers who have found Twitter as a way to express those feelings. But I think that’s all you can say."
HBO’s head of social media marketing Sabrina Caluori similarly says that Twitter alone does not secure awards nominations, but admitted that it serves a purpose. "Social media is clearly a great way to build buzz, so it makes sense that it could raise awareness among Emmy voters," Caluori says. "First and foremost though is the quality of the show. Some of the biggest dramas on TV and on Twitter, aren't nominated in the best drama category. In the case of Game of Thrones, there is obviously tons of social attention but in the end the nomination recognizes the work."
Perhaps, but HBO certainly puts effort into Game of Thrones’ Twitter presence. Caluori says that because Twitter fans are "more engaged" and "more rabid" than, say, Facebook fans, HBO launches Game of Thrones’ Twitter product before its Facebook product. The cable network has also rewarded "super fans who tweet" (Caluori’s words) about Game of Thrones, such as Stephen Colbert and Conan O’Brien, by sending them custom-made Game of Thrones boxes filled with trinkets related to the show.
"The Twitter audience is our evangelist," Caluori says. "They’re the people who are saying, ‘I can’t believe you haven’t read that’ and sharing content with friends."
And, maybe, helping build Emmy buzz.