How Sharknado Became the Broadcast Version of a Viral Video

Aug 7, 2013

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.

2 Comments
  • Andrew Ryback Reply
    2018-03-07 21:55:41

    We're glad you found this to be useful, Margaux. Let us know if there's anything we can help with.

  • Margaux Ford Reply
    2018-03-07 05:57:06

    I appreciate the tips on hiring a production staffing company to have more time to focus on the creative aspects of the project. Hiring a production crew is a tedious task, and can take up much of your time. We're currently working on a huge production, and I'll share this article with my boss so he'll consider on delegating the recruitment to a staffing company. I like that you mentioned that staffing company can ensure to have the right team onboard for the project. Thanks!

  • Robert McWilliams Reply
    2017-10-31 19:05:18

    Todd: I have an ad agency in addition to our production company. We put one of our clients on OTT two months ago up in Nevada. Seems to be working! Thanks again for the work earlier this month. Rob

  • Nicole Rohde Reply
    2017-05-27 22:28:45

    Hey Andrew, Any word as to whether or not the Jokers will be back for Comic Con this year? Please let me know. Thanks!!!

  • Aaron Estabrook Reply
    2017-02-23 16:26:57

    I'll be tuning in for sure!

  • David Patton Reply
    2015-01-16 13:16:02

    Interesting blog post Andrew. For those who are nearly ready to cut the cord, but still want access to key channels such as ESPN, I'd recommend checking out Dish Network's new service, Sling TV. It provides access to a handful of channels for $20/month. https://gigaom.com/2015/01/15/sling-tv-details-price-devices-networks-resolution-bandwidth/

  • Andrew Ryback Reply
    2015-01-13 14:44:19

    Go for it! I'll admit that I was a little apprehensive about pulling the plug at first, but honestly, the transition away from DirecTV has been seamless. The only missing link is live sports, but there are a few work arounds depending on what sports you watch. Good luck!

  • Gregory Hart Reply
    2015-01-13 06:35:00

    While I am part of the 55 year old demographic that still has TV boxes and does TV viewing, I do my viewing using DVRs and networked PCs playing video files from an in-home server. I too have noticed that I view a handful of shows on a regular basis and have found various other sources for these shows. And now it has gotten to the point to where I am seriously considering ending my very long relationship with DirecTV and going streaming. Working in the TV industry also helped to open eyes to this as well. This transition from "old" TV is coming and the networks (Les Moonves, I am looking at you!) had better plan for it.

  • K. Lona Lymen Reply
    2014-01-31 17:54:25

    You are spot-on that voters don't believe that Obama can accomplish any of his plans. I vote in every election, but I am disgusted with all the arguing and last minute actions that band-aid a problem for a few months, and then break out into new arguments. The comparison to the Superbowl was interesting because, like politics it is a great American sport. But, instead of Peyton Manning giving a State-of-the Union, the President's address should get better commercials!

  • Gary Reply
    2013-08-08 09:44:39

    You've left out a HUGE part of this story by not mentioning Howard Stern's effect on the Sharknado buzz! #siris-ly

  • Marybeth Harrison Reply
    2013-08-07 14:46:29

    I can almost hear the theme song from Jaws as I read your post!