How the Breaking Bad finale helped AMC conquer Twitter

By Jonathan Lesser, Lara Helm and Adam Carlson at Global Strategy Group 

Twitter is increasingly used as an outlet for people to express their emotions
about live TV, and AMC is taking full advantage of this.

Fans are increasingly
using Twitter to talk about shows they like, shows they dislike, and how they
feel about what they watch in real time. Networks are trying to use this
Twitter chatter to generate buzz for their shows. For example, the cast of
Comedy Central’s ‘Workaholics’ live tweets jokes and reactions to the show using in-show hashtags, while ABC’s ‘Scandal’ generated a record
amount of chatter via #ScandalisBack in anticipation of last night’s season

Sunday night’s Breaking
Bad finale on AMC and Homeland premiere on Showtime was the perfect opportunity
to analyze this behavior. Using Topsy Pro and a new computer program written by Lara Helm, we analyzed how people were tweeting and identified
some interesting patterns.

Volume is not the only factor in how a network
is engaging with its viewers on Twitter. Encouraging interconnectedness between
fans can help generate substantive discussion about a show.  
Unsurprisingly, due to the exponential growth in raw popularity of
the series, AMC’s larger basic cable viewership and the network’s social media
know-how, the Breaking Bad finale generated an enormous amount of Twitter
conversation with more than 1.4 million tweets. Homeland’s Season 3 premiere
resulted in a small fraction of that volume — in fact, when looking at
conversation during the 45 minutes after both shows were over, AMC’s Talking
Bad — a talk show about Breaking Bad — generated nearly three times as many
tweets via its official hashtag than that of Showtime’s new series Masters of

After mapping a sample
of 500 total users who were retweeted the most on Sunday night talking about
either Breaking Bad or Homeland, we see that sheer volume of tweets isn’t the
only way Breaking Bad owned social media. Users talking about Breaking Bad are
significantly more interconnected with each other and have a larger following
as a group than those talking about Homeland.

In this case, it appears that a more connected fanbase on Twitter provides increased opportunity and likelihood that fans will interact with each other about the show they’re watching. Although it’s clear that the Breaking Bad network map has fewer outliers and greater connections than the Homeland map, when the sample of 500 users is considered as a single data set, those tweeting about both shows are very much interconnected. In this case, it seems that buzz about TV is not a zero-sum game: Homeland benefited with regard to volume of mentions from the enormous activity around Breaking Bad.

Using new data analysis
tools, we can see so much more than sheer volume of conversation about
campaigns and events. Focusing on connections between viewers and how their
enthusiasm can motivate new fans will help networks take full advantage of
social media conversations.

In the case of Twitter, commercial breaks can
actually help people stay engaged during engrossing live TV.
Other than the moments when the Breaking Bad
finale began and concluded, Twitter activity around the show spiked notably
during commercial breaks. These tweets included a wide range of content —
everything from verbatim quotes from Walter White to comments about the
commercials themselves (specifically that Need for Speed trailer featuring Jesse Pinkm… ahem, Aaron Paul) to simple exclamations of emotion.
Comparatively, Homeland, which doesn’t have commercial breaks, saw a relatively
stable volume of Twitter discussion over the course of the hour, with peaks at
the beginning and end of the premiere. There’s no question that fans tuning
into both these shows on Sunday had their eyes glued to the TV, but in the case
of Breaking Bad, commercial breaks allowed viewers’ eyes to drift to their
phones or laptops to share how they felt about the story — especially when the
intensity and unexpectedness of the show reaches its peak right before the

It will be interesting
to see how networks factor in commercial breaks and use them as an opportunity
to motivate viewers to talk about their shows online without alienating
advertisers. We may even see ESPN-style tickers at the bottom of the screen
during commercials with conversation starters about the show that are
contextual to the advertisers.

When it comes to what
hashtag to use, fans did what they were told on Sunday. It helped give context
to emotional outbursts on Twitter.
AMC promoted #GoodbyeBreakingBad on screen leading up to the
series finale. At 19 characters, it’s a pretty long hashtag and provides people
with less room to compose their tweet and express their thoughts. However,
#GoodbyeBreakingBad was the most used hashtag with over 324,000 mentions over
the course of the night, more than #BreakingBad which had over 315,000 mentions
or #BreakingBadFinale which had only around 75,000. In other words, viewers
used what they were told by the network even though it was a little more
awkward within the medium. The content of the rest of the tweets containing
#GoodbyeBreakingBad frequently did not make sense without the hashtag.
Efficiently adding context is an important use of hashtags that’s often
overlooked by brands. The tweet “OMG CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!” doesn’t make much
sense. The tweet “OMG CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?! #GoodbyeBreakingBad” does.

While it may be annoying
or distracting for people who are not on Twitter, putting hashtags in print
ads, on billboards and of course, the TV screen, does help to organize and
promote conversation on Twitter.

TV executives are going
to continue to debate the merits of Twitter as a means by which to connect and
communicate with their viewership. However, as far as AMC is concerned, conversation
about a TV show on Twitter might as well be a real time focus group — it’s an
opportunity to not only identify key audience members and demographics, but
also to learn what you’re doing that moves them to react and what other TV
they’re being moved to watch.

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