Why ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is the Most Social Show on TV

By Adam Flomenbaum 

LOGO_DWTS-bwEven 19 seasons in, ‘Dancing With the Stars’ continues to grow in popularity.

The show is a staple on both Nielsen’s main TV ratings chart and its Twitter TV ratings chart – even with the NFL and fall TV to compete with. Its success can be largely attributed to how it finds innovative ways to engage its audience on social.

First, it has taken the participation TV element to the next level. Telescope – which powers the popular #VoiceSave for NBC’s ‘The Voice’ – is powering for ‘Dancing With the Stars’ ‘Switch Up,’ where viewers can choose contestant pairings on Switch Up night, as well as the “You Raise The Paddle” activation, which will feature the average scores from the public counting towards the judges overall scores of the couples.

Next, showrunner Rob Wade and the show’s producers are keenly aware how much social impacts the show. “For the stars absolutely,” Wade told us when asked whether the social following of dancers and stars play a role in how casting decisions are made now, “although it’s not the be all and end all of a casting decision. We measure metrics across all social media platforms – not just followers but also the passion of their support,” he continued. “Some people have big social followings but don’t necessarily engage them.”

Why is live fan participation such a crucial part of ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ how does the show execute this, and do these integrations have a tangible impact? For more on this we spoke with Wade and with Telescope CEO Jason George.

LR: Why is live fan participation via social such a crucial part of competition shows in general, and ‘Dancing With the Stars’ in particular?

Jason George:  Fan participation in competition shows has always been an inherent part of those formats with voting, but social media has super-charged that by turning a powerful but limited one-time fan engagement into an ongoing dialog and one that happens in real-time. Why is this so important? Because every producer is looking for ways to connect with their fan base and, ideally, drive them to tune in live to the scheduled broadcast. By connecting with the audience and fans via social media, we’re driving reach and sharing, which helps to bring in new viewers.

On “Dancing With The Stars,” there’s a particularly powerful mix of all those elements of fan engagement with a base of celebrity contestants who generally have large social media followings along with an active fan base of their own. Harnessing those together and weaving real-time interactivity into the fabric of the show as we’re doing creates the potential for significant impact via social and digital media channels.

Rob Wade : because it allows the audience to make the most out of the live event and increases the enjoyment value of the telecast. Put simply we all like to watch television with friends so we can laugh, cry and express our emotions as a community – live fan participation via social media is simply this on a grand scale. For dancing with the stars it’s so important because we have celebrities with such big followings that engaging them in a real time, interactive way is a no brainer.

LR: ‘You Raise the Paddle’ will let fans vote in real-time alongside the judges. What is the process like from tallying the vote to seeing it integrated into the telecast in such a short period of time?

George: Firstly, it’s vital that the secure technical infrastructure is in place. As the TV world moves ever-closer to real-time interactivity, high-volume, “bursty” traffic can be a beast to handle! When validated results are added – as with Raise The Paddle on DWTS – the platform has to be able to tally and deliver consistent, reliable results in a very short amount of time that satisfy Standards and Practice. These are the principles underpinning our platform, Connect Live. Other than the technology, it really requires close co-ordination and a team that is experienced with live television – we have personnel both at our HQ and in-studio working with production to make sure all systems operate smoothly and that the on air experience is optimal.

LR: Even if it’s difficult to tie social and fan participation to ratings, don’t you think that these integrations ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is pioneering have some tangible impact? 

George: They do have tangible impact – there are hard numbers that support this, such as the number of additional followers and likes, viewers participating, how many times they participate, and what length of time they spend with ‘Dancing with the Stars’ digital assets. All these metrics validate that those fans are engaged more deeply with the show’s content. With that in mind, how can that not be a positive thing for both ABC and ‘Dancing with the Stars’? Even though it is difficult to prove a causal link between this and ratings, other forms of measurement are starting to get more traction and attention – particularly the Nielsen Twitter Social TV rating system – and it is only a matter of time before these metrics become a  more integral part of how TV media is sold. After all, the whole basis for this huge industry is currently those 10,000 Nielsen homes. Surely, we can do better than that in the future.

Wade: This year we have tied in more social integrations into our program than ever before. From the Switch Up on Twitter to allowing America to be the fifth judge and score the dances via Facebook, these initiatives are engaging our viewers and we can see a direct correlation in the Nielsen Twitter Social ratings, where DWTS was number one this week.