Tonight is MLB's Home Run Derby, which means our yearly plight of counting how many times Chris Berman can say the word "back" and guessing which neighboring city and/or local landmark he will use to describe a long home run. (Right now Albany leads the Statue of Liberty as the favorite.) And as Berman dishes out the grunts, jokes, and nicknames (here's hoping George "Taco" Bell gets his yearly random shoutout) he will once again be destroyed by the audience watching on Twitter.
Perhaps no other announcer is as universally panned in social media as is Chris Berman. Just Twitter search his name during any live event and you'll see a flood of tweets that have grown weary of his act and yearn for someone, anyone else to step behind the mic. It could be the Home Run Derby, the US Open, or the NFL. Fans of Chris Berman on Twitter aren't an endangered species - they're extinct.
In light of this, ESPN will tell you that Twitter is just a small percentage of fans and the truth is the silent majority still enjoy Berman's antics being spoonfed to them.
Are they right?
Well, as strange as it sounds, ESPN may have some evidence to back up this theory thanks to Sharknado.
The SyFy original Sharknado* became the talk of social media last week collecting an astounding 350,000 tweets and was a top trending topic the evening of its premiere. It was the most tweeted show by far and even compelled Twitter to take an in-depth look at the phenomenon.
* By the way, I'm finally seeing Sharknado tonight and I should thank all of you for not spoiling the ending for me. I really can't wait to see whether or not Tara Reid makes it out alive. That and you know, the guy chainsawing himself out of the shark.
But there was another interesting phenomenon happening - the social media firestorm didn't translate into TV ratings. Sharknado only drew 1.4 million viewers, placing it well behind other SyFy amalgamations like Sharktopus and Piranhaconda. I'm still waiting for my script of Raptorangutan to get the green light.
So what gives? How could something with such a feeding frenzy on social media draw such lukewarm ratings? Why didn't all the tweets translate into viewers?
The truth is that as popular as the service is, Twitter represents a small portion of the actual population. The United States had an estimated 22.9 million active users as of last year. That's a mere 7.3% of the population that's active and engaged on Twitter. So while trending topics may be all the rage and so many television shows and sporting events look to incorporate Twitter into their broadcasts, keep in mind only a small section of the population is actually using the thing. For all the people tweeting about the awesome wonder of the Sharknado, there were another 7 people that were already watching The Big Bang Theory - they just weren't tweeting about it.
The same may be true with sports. Twitter drives plenty of online traffic and discussion, but it doesn't tell the entire story. Twitter isn't big enough yet to cause huge increases in television viewing and popular consensus. It may be able to draw new viewers in, it may be a useful and entertaining second screen, it may be a great source for news and conversation... but it is nowhere close to being the complete picture. John Ourand has a great example from earlier this year about trending US soccer topics not translating to relatively huge audiences.
If anything, perhaps Twitter represents only a certain portion of sports fandom. After all, the most likely Twitter user is going to be an 18-29 urbanite and I can't imagine that being Chris Berman's core fanbase. For what it's worth, Sharknado was a bigger success in exactly those demos. Nevertheless, those are hugely important demographics for sports and networks would be wise to give some credence to what's happening in social media because it represents a significant slice of the present and future audience. It's one of the reasons why there's so much popular buzz and positive trends around soccer (especially with younger fans) and crickets for baseball. A 65 year old in Danville, Indiana may still fondly remember Tim McCarver for his playing days and tenure in the booth and agree with him about the scariness of social networking. A 19 year old in Seattle is more likely to laugh at him not being able to correctly count the letters in the word "strike."
Sharknado certainly wasn't hurt by all the hype from Twitter, it just wasn't as indicative of its total popularity as we may have anticipated. Similarly, all online criticism of announcers like Berman and McCarver and others isn't completely invalidated because the sample size may be smaller than we think, it just means it's not the universally accepted viewpoint we may believe it to be.
The challenge for everyone in media today is finding a successful dynamic where those two worlds can intersect. A world where you can reach the unplugged fan at home while not totally alienating the younger demos online. A world where you can tap into what's trending without annoying your older audience with endless scrolls of meaningless tweets from celebrities. There has to be an effective middle ground out there somewhere.
Sometimes we get wrapped up in the bubble of the blogosphere, Twitterverse, and social media and convince ourselves that's the way the entire universe walks, talks, and thinks. That's a tempting thought, but it's not necessarily the case. As contrarian as it seems, there may even be a few Chris Berman fans still out there in the dark, silent abyss that will cheer along with every back, back, back during the Home Run Derby tonight.
Maybe it's a good thing they don't have Twitter.
I don't watch ESPN unless it's the only outlet to find a quick score or something, but I just have to say that love him or hate him - Chris Berman is a decent guy. I met him years ago and the dude seriously went out of his way to be nice and give up a moment of his time to chat when there was really no reason to do so. Other sports "personalities" were either frauds or total dicks in comparison. And believe it or not - Berman is also a chick magnet - they were all over him.
Actually I think you may be missing a major aspect to this. It's not necessarily that Twitter is an inaccurate sample size or anything (which, of course, it is) but the ratings system here in the States SUCKS. The Nielson ratings only counts those who have a Nielson ratings box.
Do you know how many households in the United States have one? 25,000. So if anyone reading this ever reads the studios talking about how the ratings just weren't good for your favorite show, and it had to be cancelled because "nobody is watching", well, that's a bullsh*t claim. Unless you have a Nielson Box, your viewing does not matter one bit. Every single person in the country could be tuned into see Sharknado on it's first airing, but if not one single person with a Nielson Box is watching it, then it gets a 0.0 rating.
It's a sham system through and through, and until they fix it, then we'll continue to see shows we like get canned for more reality shows.
Ugh. No no no no no.
The biggest problem with using Twitter as a measuring stick for popularity or quality is that those who try to use Twitter chatter tend to only pay attention to mentions of the subject.
So while "Sharknado" may have been a hot topic on Twitter, that just means people were tweeting things that included the words "Sharknado" or "#Sharknado".
That would include any of the following:
"30 minutes into Sharknado. It sucks. Turning it off."
"What is this Sharknado everybody's talking about?"
"I'm not watching Sharknado."
"Shut up about Sharknado already."
and the ever popular:
"Why is Sharknado trending?"
And that's before we even factor in spam bots that will tweet out random bit.ly links with "Sharknado" and "#Sharknado" attached because they scanned the top trends for things to add to their phishing scams.
I really loved this article. Sometimes I forget that Twitter can really be its own little universe. I mean if you aren't on Twitter what are the chances that you watched Sharknado? What are the chances you even heard about Sharknado after the fact? I'd say really low.
For what it's worth, there were just below 40M US users on Twitter in June, per Comscore's numbers...
What this reminds me of is Jay Leno. Even though Jay is not the most loved among the social media crowd and professional critics, Jay is very popular with older people which helps him become the most popular late night host on TV.
If it was bad for business, ESPN would get rid of Berman. Obviously, having him there is good for business. We don't have access to all of ESPN's numbers.
"ESPN will tell you that Twitter is just a small percentage of fans."
Really?? Then why do they constantly refer to it as a source? Why do they have interns and low-paid new employees checking every athlete's account?
I guess it's similar to the lazy sports reporter who gets all his info from the four-letter network. He says "everyone in the sports world is talking about this," when in reality it's just the folks on the WWFT who only average a little over 1 percent of those watching.
Good points and clearly Twitter users are not an exact representative of the total population. However, the Nielsen Ratings are also flawed, and not a great tool (even though it is the primary measurement we have) to accurately measure the audience. Think the real truth is somewhere in between.
Announcers mean NOTHING in sports. Period, end of story. You don't watch a game for a great announcer. You don't turn off a game because of a terrible announcer.
Take Berman. I HATE CHRIS BERMAN!! But I love golf so I watch him call the US Open ever year. ESPN knows this. Everyone knows this.
If anything, it's good for ESPN because people spread the word that they're watching ESPN by bitching & moaning about Berman.
Good article, Matt. As much hate as Berman receives on Twitter, the real issue is quite clear - although they despise his gimmicky shtick (and count me as one of them), it's not to the point that they'd actively change the channel. My guess is that although there is a very vocal minority that expresses its displeasure with Berman, there is a larger proportion that either isn't listening to what he's saying, muting the game, or just simply not paying it any mind.
ESPN is likely aware of this "silent, agnostic majority" as well, seeing as the announcers themselves don't attract audiences. As a result, ESPN has no real incentive to replace Berman since viewers are mostly apathetic towards whoever is calling the game (Fox Soccer should take note - I'm no more encouraged to tune in with Gus Johnson calling a game than I would with Martin Tyler commentating).
Another reason Twitter probably isn't the best monitor for viewer sentiment is that, along with most anything on the internet, Twitter seems to best represent the extremes in consumer sentiment; the people tweeting their Berman hatred are so upset that they take to Twitter to express it, but those who are indifferent probably won't/aren't. Like you said, Matt, if you only relied on tweets to gauge Berman's likability, you'd probably be lead to believe that he's the world's worst announcer in the history of announcing (a view I don't necessarily dispute!). But as you say, reality is a far broader spectrum.
@sir boxington You don't seem to understand the sentence you quote. It is very much possible (and in fact, reality) that Twitter is a small percentage of fans, but that there is still useful information that can come out on Twitter, especially from athletes, coaches, etc. Those two points have nothing to do with one another.
@Andy_Kimball Yeah, totally concur with ya.
@stholeary I'm with jose and Col. I have listened to Vin Scully whenever I could since I first discovered him doing the All-Star game and World Series on the radio. Of course, I grew up with a father who would listen to Ernie Harwell even if the Tigers were playing our Tribe. Some time there's no choice and I'll put up with whoever it is. If the only choice is Hawk Harrelson, m&m (mute and music) will suit me just fine! I have similar feelings about hockey announcers and a few football voices as well. Yes, it's subjective but an announcer can make or ruin a game for me. By the way, who's calling the All-Star game on radio tonight?
@stholeary Yes, there are times when you have to bite the bullet and just hit the mute button, but I actually do avoid certain announcers and I also watch games because of announcers. Quick example: if there's a Fox baseball game on that doesn't involve my team and Thom Brennaman is calling the action, I won't watch it. Period. On the other hand, during the NHL playoffs there were times when I had other stuff to do but if Doc, Enzo and Pierre were calling the game I would keep it on.
@stholeary Not true. I've watched games that Gus Johnson has called JUST for Gus Johnson. Plus, announcers help shape your watching experience. God have you ever HEARD Chris Myers call a football game? It's poison, and yes I have turned off games because of him. Same goes for HoF doink Tim McCarver.
You mean like NFL players' reactions to the George Zimmerman verdict. Or Johnny Manziel's reaction to getting a local parking ticket. Chris Bosh's baby relaxing by the pool. Dick Vitale's shout out to Eva Longoria during the NBA Finals.
All were very useful. Weren't they?
Sarcasm aside, I'm sure there is some useful information. The problem is most major sports outlets can't recognize or decipher it.