Analysis Culture Twitter — Snurb, 2 March 2011
Twitter Spoils the Oscars Party for Channel Nine

As something of a distraction from our recent focus on the role of social media during natural disasters, I thought I’d share a few observations on the use of Twitter during the Oscars broadcast a few days ago. In addition to their massive global TV audience, the 2011 Academy Awards also featured the #Oscars hashtag for the first time, of course, encouraging even more discussion of the Oscar ceremony on Twitter.

And discuss they did – globally, over 500,000 tweets were posted during the marathon five-hour live event of the red carpet arrivals and awards ceremony, peaking at nearly 2500 tweets per minute during the tongue-in-cheek ‘best movie’ song montage:

Here’s a graph (click to enlarge) of the overall tweets-per-minute count during the course of the day (in AEST – the Oscars ceremony itself started at 11:30 and ran until about 14:40 Brisbane time). We clearly see the gradual ramping up of interest during the interminable red carpet arrivals, and the sustained level of activity during the event itself, with spikes around particularly noteworthy segments:

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At the same time, while activity levels during the three-hour ceremony itself remained at a steady 2000 tweets-per-minute average, the excitement died down rapidly after the final credits, leaving only die-hard fans to still tweet their delight or outrage about the Oscar choices – looks like, as always, the sheer length of the show wore out its viewers…

But what’s especially interesting from our perspective in Australia is the local takeup of Twitter to discuss the Oscars. With ‘spoilers’ about winners and losers being posted on Twitter and other social media sites, it’s now almost impossible not to be aware of the Oscar results well before they reach our screens in the evening – which means that local viewers may still watch the delayed telecast to catch the full pomp and circumstance of the Academy Awards, but the party’s already over by then.

Added for clarification: Nine also showed a live telecast of the Oscars during the daytime, and it is likely that many Australian Twitter users tuned in and tweeted about the ceremony then. That the delayed telecast – typically a big event that attracts considerable viewer attention – failed to generate any similar levels of excitement from the Twittersphere, however, points to a profound bifurcation of the Australian audience for major international live events.

And that, too, is borne out by the graph above: Channel Nine’s late-evening delayed telecast of the ceremony (starting fairly late at 21:30, and running through to 1:00 the following morning) clearly attracted much less excitement from Twitter users.

Now, nobody would seriously expect domestic tweets during Nine’s broadcast to come anywhere close to the global tweet levels during the live event, of course. However, the fact that there’s not even as much as a small bump in the tweetstream as Australians watched the delayed broadcast is notable. Let’s zoom in a little closer, and add the data from last year’s Australian Masterchef final (a major Twitter event in Australia at the time) for comparison:

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What I’ve done here is to isolate the period around Nine’s broadcast (from 21:00 to 2:00 AEST, shown in red), which shows a fairly steady average of about 65 tweets per minute. Remember, of course, that this is the global total of #Oscars tweets – there’s no easy way to separate out only those tweets made by Australian users.

Superimposed on this, in blue, is historical data from the Australian Masterchef final, on 25 July 2010. That show ran from 19:30 to about 21:45 AEST, and I’ve timeshifted the data here so that the first Masterchef peaks coincide with the 21:30 start date for Nine’s Oscars broadcast. Now, keep in mind that while it certainly would have been possible for international Twitter users to post tweets hashtagged #Masterchef, the show itself was shown only on Australian television, so there’s a very strong likelihood that the tweets which make up the blue line are overwhelmingly Australian in origin.

And yet, despite the fact that the #Oscars tweets shown here during the 21:00 to 2:00 period include both Australian and international tweets, the largely domestic #Masterchef audience comfortably keeps up with them – generating an average of just over 60 tweets per minute between 19:30 and 21:45, and peaking at 250 tweets per minute as the show’s winner is announced.

In fact, the complete absence of tweets in the #Oscars data during the Australian telecast is yet another sign that Australian Twitter users largely abstained from tweeting about the non-live broadcast – if the #Oscars Twitter community between 21:30 and 1:00 AEST was dominated by Australian viewers, we would expect their tweeting activity to match (if at a much lower overall level) the peaks and troughs of the global audience response during the live event. Evidently, that’s not the case – or if it was, those spikes occurred at such a low level as to be drowned out entirely by the global background chatter in the afterglow of the earlier live broadcast.

Which only goes to show: in an age of instant connectivity, where sites like Twitter and Facebook provide us with instant access to world events as they unfold, it is becoming ever more difficult for broadcasters to compete with the immediacy that social media provide – unless they’re prepared to broadcast live…

About the Author

Dr Axel Bruns leads the QUT Social Media Research Group. He is an ARC Future Fellow and Professor in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. Bruns is the author of Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond: From Production to Produsage (2008) and Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production (2005), and a co-editor of Twitter and Society, A Companion to New Media Dynamics and Uses of Blogs (2006). He is a Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation. His research Website is at snurb.info, and he tweets as @snurb_dot_info.

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(3) Readers' Comments

  1. Nine did broadcast live, and it’s interesting to note that the weekday broadcast attracted only about 100k fewer viewers than the delayed telecast. http://bit.ly/guBRav

    Now that every network has at least one secondary digital channel, there’s no excuse not to show events live. Arguably this is cannibalising your own audience, but it could soon become a question of WHAT audience?

    • Thanks Jake – that’s a good point, and I should have made this clearer in the post itself: the key point is that Twitter users have an obvious preference for following the event live; from their point of view, the delayed telecast might as well not have happened.

      I don’t envy TV channels the decision of whether to broadcast live or delayed – or to do both; increasingly it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

      The only sensible solution is to run every event on Australian Eastern Standard Time, of course ! ;-)

  2. Bearing in mind the famous coincidence of the #masterchef final with the election #debate – lots of (quite good) #masterchef jokes in the #debate tweets!

    I really do think one of the most significant findings from this mini case study is the cultural importance of Autotune :)