Initiative’s Heard the Word

Sep 5, 2005  •  Post A Comment

There’s a lot of buzz around Martha Stewart, Chris Rock and Jennifer Love Hewitt as the fall season begins.

Media buying agency Initiative uses a system it calls PropheSEE to track for its clients the buzz around shows and the people who make them. The system looks at comments about television on Internet fan sites and in chat rooms to measure the word of mouth-both positive and negative-that new shows generate.

Initiative said the show with the highest-quality buzz is UPN’s “Everybody Hates Chris,” the personality getting the most buzz is Ms. Stewart, who will host a new edition of “The Apprentice” on NBC, and the most surprising source of buzz is CBS’s “Ghost Whisperer,” which stars Ms. Love Hewitt.

Initiative has been refining the way it reads Internet buzz, not so much to pick ratings losers and winners-last year it predicted that “Lost” would be bigger than expected-but to help advertisers find ways to profitably interact with the fans who are engaged with particular shows.

At a time when engagement is a buzzword in media circles, PropheSEE looks for shows that are likely to form a culture of fans, because fans “are the people that are going to remember the advertising. Those are the people that don’t switch channels. Those are the people that don’t fast-forward. Those are the people who seek out that content in multiple touch points to relate to the show,” said Stacey Lynn Koerner, executive VP and director of global research integration for Initiative.

Some of the agency’s clients, she said, ask the company to review media schedules not only for reach and frequency but also for viewer engagement.

By learning about fan cultures, Initiative can tell its clients how to tap into the viewers’ passion. “If they do it right, it could be a home run for the brand,” Ms. Koerner said. But she added, “If you talk to them in a way that really shows you don’t understand what their experience is about, it works harder against you than for you.”

As the new season draws near, Ms. Koerner said, PropheSEE finds that most of the buzz about shows involves their stars and producers. “People argue about whether the show is good or bad or indifferent based on the stars that are associated with it or have been hired or fired or whether it seems realistic to put a certain actor in a certain role,” she said. “By the time you get into the first several weeks, when there is enough in terms of content and plot and characters, then the discussion shifts.”

Getting the most buzz is Ms. Stewart. About 24 percent of the buzz on Ms. Stewart is positive, which is about average. But her negative buzz accounted for 19 percent, a figure on the high end, Ms. Koerner said.

Ms. Love Hewitt generated even more negative buzz. Some of that is from chatter discussing whether or not she can act. But PropheSEE has also found that a lot of buzz is generated by fans of canceled shows, who either look forward to seeing their favorite stars show up in new programs or are still disturbed by the demise of shows they liked.

“Shows that are replacing shows with active fan clusters fall prey to a lot of negative sentiment and negative word of mouth. They’re annoyed that this show is replacing ‘Joan of Arcadia,'” which had an active fan culture, she said.

But buzz is buzz, and Ms. Koerner thinks “Ghost Whisperer” could do better than shows the agency thought would have more traction coming out of the upfront. “We would imagine the sampling in its premiere would be pretty good. And then it lives or dies on its own after that,” she said.

Initiative combines its figures on overall program buzz, the positive program sentiment buzz and actor buzz to create a metric that measures a new show’s potential to generate engaged audiences. The WB’s “Everybody Hates Chris” had the highest fan engagement index at 191.

Using those buzz figures, the agency handicapped two time periods in which a large number of new shows would be airing.

On Tuesdays at 8, The WB’s “Supernatural” weighs in with a very strong fan engagement index of 165, followed by ABC’s much-anticipated “Commander in Chief” at 129, “My Name is Earl” (which NBC calls its highest-testing sitcom ever) at 118 and UPN’s “Sex, Love & Secrets.”

Ms. Koerner noted that buzz doesn’t translate directly into ratings. While “Supernatural” benefits due to one of its lead actors being a regular on “Gilmore Girls,” which has a strong fan culture, “Commander in Chief” has the broadcast audience potential, Ms. Koerner said.

On Wednesdays at 9 p.m., NBC’s “E-Ring” was tops with a 110 index, followed by The WB’s “Related” at 105.