Despite Digital Platforms, TV Still Relies On Word Of Mouth

TV is still a huge topic of conversation on and offline, according to recent research. In fact, conversation about TV is growing in the last few years. And face-to-face word of mouth still has tremendous power when it comes to attracting new viewers to a show. TV still seems to be the most influential medium when it comes to shaping American culture.

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People used to talk about TV shows around the water cooler at work. Now, people talk about TV shows in real time on Twitter and may watch the best moments again the next day on YouTube, clicking off the browser, of course, when the boss comes around.

However you may talk about TV, NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports there is more TV worth talking about.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Even with all the ways we communicate electronically, researchers say most word-of-mouth - 95 percent of it - is still face to face, say, over lunch.

BRYAN SHERRY: I'm going to get the chicken quesadilla.

BLAIR: Bryan Sherry, Abigail Glenn-Chase, and Eugene Freedman used to all work together in the same office in Washington, D.C. They bonded over their favorite TV obsession, "Game of Thrones."

EUGENE FREEDMAN: It's the scene with Sandor and Beric was...

ABIGAIL GLENN-CHASE: Oh, yeah.

FREEDMAN: ...it was almost like they were really fighting to the death.

GLENN-CHASE: When the hound fought Beric that was awesome.

BLAIR: They get together and analyze plot lines and motivations. They've also read the books.

GLENN-CHASE: When Thoros of Myr breathes fire back into Dondarrion, that was such an amazing scene in the...

BLAIR: "Game of Thrones" is one of the most talked about shows on TV right now. Other shows with a lot of buzz: "The Big Bang Theory," "Pretty Little Liars" and "The Voice."

Alyssa Rosenberg, who writes about pop culture for Slate and ThinkProgress, believes the reason there's been such a surge in word of mouth is that TV has gotten really good.

ALYSSA ROSENBERG: There is so much television going on right now that isn't merely interesting or engaging, but that feels urgent and exciting.

BLAIR: And now viewers have the means to react immediately, as they did with the show "Scandal."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "SCANDAL")

KERRY WASHINGTON: (as Olivia Pope) Were you planning to run or not?

TONY GOLDWYN: (as Fitzgerald Grant) Why are you so...

WASHINGTON: (as Olivia Pope) Were you planning to run or not?

GOLDWYN: (as Fitzgerald Grant) Olivia.

WASHINGTON: (as Olivia Pope) Were you planning to run or not?

ROSENBERG: The quality of the conversation about "Scandal" was so high, even before the show found its footing in its second season that it was a shame not to be able to participate in the conversation that was going down, while the episode was airing.

BLAIR: And it's not just fans weighing in on the conversation. Take a recent episode of "The Good Wife" that dealt with a labor case.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "THE GOOD WIFE")

JULIANNA MARGULIES: (as Alicia Florrick) Anything else?

MATT CZUCHRY: (as Cary Agos) OT for any work week exceeding 60 hours. And some kind of criteria for any performance-based bonuses.

MARGULIES: (as Alicia Florrick) Great thanks, Cary.

BLAIR: People involved with labor law in real life took to social media.

ROSENBERG: All of the sudden Twitter just lit up about this episode. People, you know, nitpicking details of the law, being excited that it was discussed at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "THE GOOD WIFE")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) Do any of you get overtime if your work week exceeds 60 hours?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as character) Do you?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) No.

BLAIR: Word-of-mouth helped CBS build another hit: A comedy about some socially awkward scientists, says CBS Chief Marketing Officer George Schweitzer.

GEORGE SCHWEITZER: We did a lot for a show like "The Big Bang Theory" in the conventional sense; TV advertising, radio, billboards all over the country. But it was word-of-mouth. It was more of the buzz. It was more of the build of people who were kind of poking each other saying, hey, did you see that?

BLAIR: Some in the TV industry are trying to figure out how to grab hold of a ground-swell in word-of-mouth. AMC created an entire TV show of people talking about another TV show, that a lot of people are talking about. On the "Talking Dead," they talk about "The Walking Dead."

(SOUNDBITE OF TALK SHOW, "TALKING DEAD)

CHRIS HARDWICK: If Milton had killed Andrea when he was told to, would the governor have spared him do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: I think so.

BLAIR: Even if watching people talk about a TV show is not your thing, word-of-mouth could actually make life easier, says Mark Ghuneim, founder of the website Trendrr, which measures online interactions about media.

MARK GHUNEIM: We've lived with a program guide that's been 500 channels long and a whole lot of scrolling and, you know, literally eye-bleeding reading to find what we want to watch on TV. But now, we can inform it in other ways. So now we can say: What are the top 10 shows that people are talking about right now?

BLAIR: Now, people tend to think that people do a lot of griping about what they don't like.

ED KELLER: I'm here to tell you that's not the case.

BLAIR: Ed Keller is co-author of the "Face-to-Face Book."

KELLER: Overwhelmingly, what people talk about tend to be positive experiences. That's what they want to share with other people; the excitement that they have in telling somebody else, you really should be watching this show, and I love the characters, I like the plot line.

BLAIR: But they do still say things like, that show's horrible.

SCHWEITZER: Yeah, bad shows get bad word-of-mouth and they don't last long.

BLAIR: George Schweitzer of CBS says bad buzz can kill a show, but no buzz doesn't mean it'll flop. He says take "NCIS," one of the top-rated shows on TV, it barely gets any buzz at all.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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