×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Discovery’s #Skywire: Is Social Media the New Lead-In?

Apologies, Discovery: amid a slew of errands, apartment cleaning, pilot watching and Super Moon glancing, I had forgotten that Nik Wallenda was planning to make history and tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon, sans harness. These things happen.

But, when I opened Twitter for a quick scroll Sunday evening, I quickly lunged for the remote — upon reading my feed filled with tweets about Wallenda’s perilous stunt (and his jeans, and his knowledge of every synonym for “God”), I knew had to tune in.

It was New York Times reporter Brian Stelter’s tweet that initially caught my attention:

Oh man, this sounds intense. I better turn it on, I thought.

Pretty soon, I was in on the conversation:

https://twitter.com/Variety_AJM/status/348984137660657664

I, like hundreds of thousands of other views Sunday night, turned on Discovery’s “Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda” after witnessing the social media frenzy surrounding the daredevil’s Grand Canyon wire walk. Twitter tags including “Wallenda,” “Skywire” and even “Yes Jesus” (Wallenda’s favorite, stress-induced catchphrase during his walk) trended nationally, and the live broadcast at its peak accrued almost 40,000 tweets per minute.

The ratings for “Skywire” strongly suggest that social media stimulated viewership. “Skywire’s” preshow drew a solid 6.25 million viewers, and the main event — broadcast live from 9:10-10:20 p.m. EST — averaged 10.68 million viewers.

But it was the actual walk segment — from 9:38-10:01 p.m. — that delivered just shy of 13 million viewers. This surge in viewership during the Grand Canyon wire walk itself, which occurred during a rather uneven time during the broadcast, must derive a significant portion of its audience from social media users who tuned in after seeing the digital chatter.

These numbers — both in ratings and social media — are huge for Discovery. But, more importantly, they exemplify the growing importance of social media in driving viewership, instead of merely proving viewership after the fact. During a time in TV where broadcast execs still emphasize the importance of a traditional lead-in program, “Skywire” proved that trending topics can serve as a lead-in themselves.

Using Twitter as a lead-in shifts the retroactive approach to social media that networks currently have. Aside from promoted tweets and hashtags, nets typically leverage social media stats after a broadcast in order to supplement hard Nielsen data. Look, people were talking about this show, too, the press releases translate to.

But approaching social media as the new lead-in allows nets to be proactive in driving viewership in a way they typically aren’t able to be. With traditional television lead-ins, you must rely on viewers being tuned into your preceding show, and sticking around for your targeted broadcast. This is a challenging balancing act that calls for complementary programming, and solid ratings for the lead-in.

Social media offers a far more blanket approach to promoting a show on TV — any social media user watching any TV program (or none, in my case), can be nudged into tuning in when they notice a flood of hashtags. Thanks to trending topics and the rapid-fire watercooler effect of Twitter, networks can cast their nets wide, and draw viewers that would not have otherwise known about their content.

Social media’s effects on television viewing is still the Wild Wild West, with countless digital companies trying to quantify — and monetize — this spectrum. “Skywire” also stands as a special programming scenario, since the stakes of the live broadcast were literally life or death, giving the event urgency to tune in. But “Skywire” managed to be DVR-proof and stronghold social media with its live broadcast, something all programs aspire to achieve.

How do you replicate this kind of social media and television magic in the future? It shouldn’t take a wire walker and the Grand Canyon, but it will require balance and patience, something Nik Wallenda certainly understands.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Atmosphere71st Primetime Emmy Awards Nominations Announcement,

    How to Watch the 2019 Emmy Awards Online

    The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards won’t be one to miss. Whether you’re a “Killing Eve” fan eager to see co-stars Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer face off in the same category, a “Veep” enthusiast excited to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus potentially nab the honor of most Emmy wins of any performer in history, or a “Game [...]

  • Actor Aron Eisenberg during the Creation

    'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' Actor Aron Eisenberg Dies at 50

    “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” actor Aron Eisenberg, who played Nog in the 1990s series, died Saturday. He was 50. His character Nog, who appeared for all seven seasons, was a member of the alien race Ferengi, and joined Starfleet after a recommendation from Captain Sisko. Eisenberg returned for a guest spot on “Star Trek: [...]

  • ALL RISE -- A drama that

    TV Review: 'All Rise' Starring Simone Missick

    Finding a new way to do a legal procedural is such a difficult prospect at this point that it would be hard to blame TV for giving up entirely and just going on autopilot. “All Rise,” however, both indulges the basics of the genre and finds some refreshing ways to twist them into slightly new, [...]

  • An Emmy statue stands outside the

    Expect High Heat and Traffic for Emmys Sunday

    If you work in TV, are a fan of TV, or are in fact a TV yourself, the 71st Primetime Emmys promise to be a treat. Television’s biggest awards show takes place in Los Angeles on Sunday night, with some of Hollywood’s brightest stars set to appear as the entertainment community honors the best of [...]

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Viacom Channels Grab 'Seinfeld' Cable Rerun

    Viacom Channels Grab 'Seinfeld' Cable Rerun Rights

    Viacom has sealed a deal with Sony Pictures Television for the cable rights to “Seinfeld” starting in October 2021. The deal comes on the heels of a blockbuster new deal between Sony and Netflix for the streaming rights to the beloved NBC sitcom that also begins in 2021. “Seinfeld” reruns have been a staple of [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content