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TCA: ‘Sharknado’ vs. ‘Under the Dome’ and the Limits of Twitter

A national joke vs. the biggest network's biggest show of the summer. Guess which won on Twitter?

Are we worrying too much about social media?

TV executives think maybe we are. It's fashionable to use Twitter, Facebook and GetGlue interactions to measure buzz about shows. But those interactions don't always pay off in terms of viewers.

CBS Corp. chief research officer David F. Poltrack laid out the case Monday that we may be worrying too much about what people are tweeting, using two extreme examples: SyFy's "Sharknado" and CBS's "Under the Dome."

"Sharknado" became a national joke as it rose to number six in Bluefin rankings measuring buzz on Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Even highbrow names like Mia Farrow and Philip Roth got in on the jokes. SyFy tried to seize some control of the Twitter phenomenon by announcing a contest to name the sequel.

Also read: 'Sharknado' Encore Tops Premiere

But for all that online attention, only 1.4 million people watched the initial airing of "Sharknado." A rebroadcast earned 1.9 million.

"Under the Dome," meanwhile, rose to only 13th in the BlueFin rankings. It didn't lend itself to jokes as easily as SyFy's flying sharks story. But it earned 13.5 million viewers in its first viewing, and more than 20 million including streaming and DVR viewing.

There are certainly programs — the Super Bowl, for example — that dominate in both online chatter and TV ratings. But Poltrack said research provided by KellerFay Group indicates that 80 percent of word-of-mouth endorsements take place face to face.

That's right: Human beings talking to other human beings, with no hashtags.

"Don't assume that because 'NCIS' doesn't have a lot of people tweeting about it, that there aren't a lot of people talking about it," Poltrack said, citing the example of TV's most-watched scripted show. (The highest rated show in the key 18-49 demo, meanwhile, is "Walking Dead," a social media dynamo.)

"If you follow Twitter and you follow BlueFin, you would think that 'Pretty Little Liars' is the most-watched televsion show. And it may be with the very narrow group of young women who are obsessed with that show and are probably also obsessed with Twitter."

In spite of that, Poltrack said, networks still like Twitter, because it can help promote tune-in. Facebook seems to be an even bigger factor, he said.

"Twitter is growing, Twitter is expanding. Their scope will get bigger. This phenomenon is going to grow. We are not avoiding it. We are immersing ourselves in it. But right now, it's really focused … on a small segment of the population."

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