How Sharknado Became the Broadcast Version of a Viral Video

Aug 7, 2013  |  by Andrew Ryback

Cable network, SyFy, launched a made-for-TV movie in early July about a tornado that lifts sharks out of the ocean and deposits them all over the city of Los Angeles.

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Cable network, SyFy, launched a made-for-TV movie in early July about a tornado that lifts sharks out of the ocean and deposits them all over the city of Los Angeles. As man-eating sharks rain from the sky, mayhem ensues in both the fictional horror-movie-turned-comedy – “Sharknado” – and the real world social media community.

So what’s the big deal about a campy made-for-TV movie? Ordinarily, nothing, but Sharknado was a big deal (though for all the wrong reasons). Thanks to the power of social media – specifically Twitter – Sharknado became a broadcast version of a viral video. During its first airing on July 11th, Sharknado was receiving over 5,000 tweets per minute at its peak. That beat the social engagement for CBS’ “Big Brother” and “Big Bang Theory” and came close to besting “Game of Thrones” (and we all know how much people love GoT). #Sharknado was trending on Twitter in Australia where the movie wasn’t even airing. Further, 17% of all tweets sent about TV programs on July 11th were attributed to Sharknado – the movie received over 440,000 tweets in a 24-hour period.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Social engagement had a direct correlation to the success of the film (coincidentally, media measurement firm, Nielsen, feels the same way). The first airing received 1.4 million viewers – about 100,000 under what a typical SyFy original movie receives. After the social media frenzy surrounding the first airing, SyFy scheduled a 2nd airing which increased viewership about 26% to 1.9 million viewers, making it the most watched encore in SyFy’s history. The Sharknado train kept rolling with the 3rd airing, which received 2.1 million viewers, and SyFy already has a 4th airing scheduled for August 22nd. Roughly 200 Regal Cinemas across the U.S. decided to screen the film and, naturally, a sequel is already in the works and scheduled to be released in 2014. SyFy will be holding a contest – via Twitter, of course – in which viewers can submit their original tag line ideas for the movies second installment – presumably a smart idea considering the tag line for the first film: “Enough Said!” (Seriously).

SyFy wasn’t doing this as a publicity stunt and they weren’t looking to make a name for themselves by distributing something bad. In fact, even the network was surprised by the social media response that the movie received. But they must be doing something right. Their target audience is clearly very engaged and well-versed in social media and the network learned first-hand how powerful that can be. Based on the plot, “special effects”, writing and acting (thank you, Tara Reid), Sharknado had no business becoming popular. But being a bad made-for-TV movie is exactly what made it so popular. Viewers were so impressed by how unimpressive the movie was that they took to social media, which in turn increased viewership and engagement. People wanted to be in on the joke. It didn’t matter that the movie was bad – what mattered was that people were talking about it, because an engaged audience is a powerful audience. Enough Said.

So as we mull the purchase of our “sharkinis” (yup, that’s real) and prepare for the 2014 release of Sharknado 2, one can only imagine what sort of social media strategy – if any – SyFy will partake in for the highly anticipated(?) follow-up to our favorite shark-meets-natural-disaster movie. Will Sharknado 2 receive as big of an organic online response as the original, or was this a one-time phenomenon? We’ll have to wait and see.

Until then, keep your eyes on the sky and watch for falling sharks.

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