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NBC’s Digital Efforts with ‘Million Second Quiz’ Stumble Out the Gate

A lethal combination of app crashes and quiet Twitter presence left 'MSQ' flaccid in the digital arena

There were a whole lot of error messages popping up on cell phone screens across America last night, as NBC’s ambitious gameshow “The Million Second Quiz” debuted on the net’s primetime lineup.

So many messages, in fact, that if you search for “MSQ” on Twitter — even this morning — the third most popular search is “msq server error.”

These were not the sort of tweets NBC was hoping for.

Here’s what happened: NBC planned for “MSQ” to be the ultimate second screen experience, releasing a “Million Second Quiz” mobile game app a month ago for users to play. This app was to provide a truly active and immersive gameplay experience for auds, since winning on the app could lead to winning a spot on the actual “MSQ” show, lensed in New York City.

But when the show went live last night at 8 p.m. from Gotham, app users flooded the digital game’s servers, and in effect crashed the app at the start of the “MSQ” broadcast. No matter how many times you reloaded, upgraded, or logged back into the app, a server error message would greet you via iPhone or Android screen. Those who were able to log into the app were plagued by slow gameplay, with questions not running in sync with the live competition.

So much for that second screen experience.

Where one facet of “MSQ’s” digital efforts was too prolific, another wasn’t nearly prolific enough. The show had difficulty breaking into Twitter’s trending topics, in spite of continual, onscreen reminders to use the “#msq” hashtag throughout the broadcast. Instead, topics regarding football, relationship puns and Miley Cyrus thrived on Twitter’s United States trend list for the majority of Monday night, leaving “MSQ” largely silent in terms of its social media footprint.

“MSQ” didn’t make a huge dent in primetime ratings either, drawing 6.5 million viewers overall, or roughly half what NBC’s unscripted golden child “The Voice” pulled throughout its most recent run.

Of course, this was just the first night of the live strip’s roughly 11-night run on the Peacock. And the “event”-type show was up against the stiff competition of today’s purest form of event programming: NFL football, which aired live during not only the east coast broadcast of “MSQ,” but during the gameshow’s west coast broadcast as well.

But, the “MSQ” digital blunders bring to mind some interesting comparisons when it comes to how nets can leverage digital platforms and create “event”-like programming for linear TV broadcasts.

Comedy Central’s roast of James Franco, which bowed over Labor Day Weekend, drew just 3 million viewers, yet was able to launch 13 roast-related topics, according to Trendrr. For one, the 10 p.m. timeslot of the Franco roast left it competing with fewer noisy programs (like NFL football) on the social media landscape, thereby clearing the field for it to become one of the most social TV shows of the weekend.

More importantly, though, the Franco roast provoked social media mentions because the material of the Comedy Central special flat out provoked discussion. The jokes were outrageous, and Twitter users chimed in with their thoughts and reactions to the telecast throughout the night.

“MSQ’s” lukewarm, family-friendly contestant introductions followed by rapid-fire pop culture trivia left little wiggle room for Twitter users to react, and most of the #msq tweets that weren’t whining about server errors simply read “I got that one right!” or “I should be on this show!,” which does little to propel a TV program high into the social media rankings.

Perhaps the first lesson from night one of “MSQ” is that a prepared hashtag and decent audience size does not a social media footprint make. A telecast with half the viewership — like #FrancoRoast — can still drive a remarkable number of social media mentions, which is another reminder that audience depth can often operate independently of audience breadth.

The real challenge for NBC when it comes to the forthcoming live episodes of “MSQ” — including the one set to air tonight at 8 p.m. — is not only how to fix those app servers, but also how to provoke organic discussion of the gameshow online. Does the show need a dash of edge? Does the audience need more investment in the key contestants, who are routinely rotated out of the show?

The program still has several nights to work out its kinks, but as host Ryan Seacrest continues to remind viewers at home, time on “The Million Second Quiz” is running out.

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