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Why live tweeting is helping TV networks thrive

The competition for viewer's attention is running on all cylinders right now. There's a reason Netflix dropped $60 million for Brad Pitt - big names draw big numbers. With many movie actors moving to the small screen the heat is on to capitalize on their star power.

TV networks are struggling to capture live audiences so they are luring audiences in creative ways. One strategy that has been proven successful is having their casts live-tweet. Twitter released a study showing that this is indeed driving viewers to watch. “One of the most powerful and direct ways to drive conversation about a program on Twitter is to have the stars of the show engaged on Twitter, particularly during the airing. In fact, we found that shows live-Tweeting from cast members during the premiere had 64% more Tweets that day compared to programs that did nothing." The study also showed that viewers preferred tweets from an actor rather than the show's official Twitter handle.

All hail Shonda

One of the top tweeted shows is ABC's Scandal, created by TV legend Shonda Rhimes. There are many reasons for this but as this Twitter case study points out - the cast is great about interacting with fans. #AskScandal is a weekly Twitter chat with one or more stars of the show. Star of the show, Kerry Washington (who has 2.2m followers), often live-tweets during the show while providing background stories and answering fan questions. This helps build a relationship with fans of the show (aka #Gladiators) and drive live viewers as ratings for Scandal increase season after season.

Even writers/producers of the show are pulling bigger numbers. Shonda Rhimes has 970k Twitter followers whereas @ABCScandal has 842k. Shonda has become a star in her own right owning Thursday nights with three hit shows spurring the hashtag #TGIT (Thank God It's Thursday) respectively. Being an active social media user herself she understand the value and has even had Twitter parties with all her casts.

Netflix's achilles heel?

Premium channels and streaming services have a major hurdle - avoiding spoilers. While the cast of Orange is the New Black is very active on social media they can't participate in the weekly conversations with viewers that traditional TV networks can. One of the downsides the show's creator, Jenji Kohan, said took away from the enjoyment of the show. House of Cards is Netflix's biggest hit yet it's two stars are notoriously not active on Twitter. Kevin Spacey has 4m Twitter followers but rarely engages about the show and Robin Wright is not on Twitter. While Netflix doesn't rely on ad revenues, they do rely on audience growth. If audiences can engage with each other because their viewing is sporadic then it can be hindering the traditional enjoyment of television.

Premium shows have the hurdle of cost although they are slowly trying to change that with online streaming services. It will be interesting to track how audience engagement grows as more users sign up for HBO Now or Showtime's upcoming standalone streaming service.

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