The Value of Social Media in Upfront Season

Published on Apr 17th, 2017

By Marc Berman

Six weeks into upfront season and there is no shortage of broadcasters hawking their new and returning programming initiatives. Through May 18th (when The CW and NBC Universal Cable step to the stage), dozens of outlets – cable now, then digital and broadcast – present their plans to prospective advertisers, media buyers and members of the press.

Digital follows the cable portion of the upfront in what is referred to as the NewFront. And, the week May 15th are the broadcast networks of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW.

Fasten your seatbelts.

For all media outlets, the collective goal in the upfront (and NewFront) is to convince media buyers to commit to advertising deals for TV shows months away, or even the following year. And, for any outlet in search of an audience in an environment where a record number of scripted series (over 500) are expected to be competing, building a social audience prior to premiering, and after the debut, is often the key ingredient in finding those elusive eyeballs.

A New Hit Across All Measures

NBC’s This Is Us was the biggest new series success on any broadcast network this season based on the traditional Nielsen ratings. That success started during last year’s upfronts.

Although the first episode didn’t air until September 20, 2016, the trailer was released during May 2016’s upfronts. The trailer actually crossed over 50 million viewers on Facebook in just its first 11 days (and between 70 and 80 million, including toobyyoobers, and other digital platforms), a new record. Prospective fans found a new scripted series they wanted to learn more about. Thanks to the initial social interest, a new hit was born.

According to the total actions based on the Shareablee’s rankings from June 2016 to March 2017, This is Us is also topped all newbie network series with an approximate 19.6 million total actions (with 4,158 posts), with Facebook driving 79% of that total engagement. Comparably, that places it No. 12 overall (amongst a listing of over 1,100 entries). It reinforces how social media can infuse interest in a series before it premieres, giving it a greater chance of succeeding when it does ultimately premiere.

The importance of social media is the recipe for potential success.

There is no better series, of course, than Freeform’s soon-to-depart Pretty Little Liars to demonstrate the value of social interest. Over 257.7 million total actions were reported in the surveyed 10-month period (comprised of 83% Instagram usage), which more than doubled the other social media monster, AMC’s The Walking Dead (No. 2 at 125.9 million). Heading into the final episodes this spring, the interest socially is expected to break new records as we ponder how exactly all the pending storylines will be resolved.

Also notable relevant on cable remains veteran Keeping Up with the Kardashians on E! at a collective 19.1 million total actions, which is all the more reason to expect this franchise to live on indefinitely. Next up this summer is Kylie Jenner spin-off, Life of Kylie, focused on the 19-year old budding entrepreneur with appearances by her family members, of course.

On Fox, Empire may have lost some luster in those traditional Nielsen ratings, but social is still a particularly impressive benchmark. Over 34.8 million total actions for the fictional Lyon clan was reported by Shareablee, making it the top total action social entry on the broadcast networks. Empire ranks No. 5 overall, just above Grey’s Anatomy on ABC and The Voice on NBC.

Leading the second tier at No. 11 overall is perennial NBC summer favorite America’s Got Talent at 19.9 million total actions. Just below is ABC’s Dancing with the Stars (19.1 million viewers), at No. 13 overall, which only magnifies the value of these reality/competitions. The audience wants you to know who exactly they are rooting for, and vice versa, which is why the recent of upcoming new ABC singing competition Boy Band and talk of NBC reviving American Idol is no surprise. But with upfront season upon us, and the broadcasters determining what series to make the cut for the 2017-18 season, a 17th place finish for ABC’s Once Upon a Time, which is stalled at present via the traditional Nielsen ratings, is all the more reason to move forward on a seventh season.

Series on the Fence for Renewal
Scream Queens on Fox, another low-rated Nielsen entry, immediately follows Once Upon a Time at No. 18 with 17.6 million total actions. But since two modest Nielsen rated seasons may result in Fox passing on a potential renewal, Scream Queens could ultimately be a positive acquisition for a young female skewing outlet like Freeform or MTV. In addition to Pretty Little Liars, sophomore Shadowhunters on Freeform ranked third overall (with 63.9 million total actions), with The Fosters No. 9 overall (21.6 million). Soon-to-conclude Teen Wolf on MTV immediately followed at No. 4, with 56.6 million total actions.

Positive footnote: Shadowhunters just gained more recognition by being named Outstanding Drama Series by the GLAAD Media Awards, who recognize and honor media for their fair, accurate and inclusive representations for the LGBT community and the issues that affect their lives.
Superheroes and Vampires Resonate Socially

Another questionable Fox returnee, Gotham, will owe that potential fourth season pick-up to social media. Shareablee is reporting a 20th place finish for the Batman prequel, based on total actions, with just under 12 million (48% via Twitter and 40% via Facebook).

While Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD on ABC did not make the Top 20 cut, 7.2 million total actions should definitely be a consideration for a potential fifth season. Ditto for The Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals (6 million total actions), which buried on low-HUT level Friday (and dependent on DVR usage) should warrant a fifth season. No action based series based on a comic book figure has even been a hit in the traditional ratings, but social is always a positive indicator. Next up in the Marvel universe is drama The Inhumans on ABC.

More On the Fence Series

Other network series questionable on renewal that could be worthy of a pick-up based on Shareablee’s total action ranking includes Fox’s New Girl (4.3 million total actions), ABC’s Quantico (2.7 million) and Fox sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2.2 million). While The CW’s Jane the Virgin is confirmed to return, what many assume is based on critical acclaim alone may not realize that the Gina Rodriguez drama netted a very respectable 1.6 million total actions based on this survey.

Sleepy Hollow on Fox, which concluded season three on March 31, also resonated socially with 1.4 million total actions (with 802 posts). Particularly more impressive, however, was recent CW entry Riverdale, featuring the characters from the classic Archie comic book series, which at 4.3 million total actions is already confirmed to return for season two. Consider this another clear example of a series that lives on thanks in great part to social media.

It matters…and it always will.

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