Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Near-Record Ratings for the Grammys. CBS Credits the Web.

Last night’s Grammys roped in some 40 million viewers. That’s the second-largest audience the award show has ever had, and the number was up 50 percent from last year.

Why the spike? A good chunk of it, I assume, has to do with the death of Whitney Houston the day before, and viewers who wanted to see how the biggest stars in music responded to the loss of a peer.

But the rise also fits nicely with an increasingly popular digital narrative: Big, live TV events are big events on Twitter and Facebook, which generate lots of online chatter and drive more eyeballs back to the TV screen, where they inspire even more chatter. Cue virtuous cycle.

Last night’s show generated 13 million “social media comments,” says “social TV” tracker Bluefin Labs. That’s even more than the previous week’s Super Bowl (which attracted many more TV eyeballs than the Grammys).

And you could argue that the Grammys were less digitally friendly than the Super Bowl. The game was streamed live on the Web, and the awards show was broadcast-only*, and was broadcast on a three-hour delay on the West coast.

CBS, though, argues that it worked hard to generate online interest for the show. It says it attracted a million visitors to the various sites and iPad/iPhone apps it operated over the three days leading up to the show. It says it attracted a peak of 165,000 concurrent viewers to a livestream of pre-Grammys red carpet coverage Sunday afternoon.

And it says it worked hard, along with Twitter, to get music stars at last night’s show to talk up the event to their own social networks.

“You’ve got to look at the ratings and say that there’s got to be a correlation,” says Marc DeBevoise, who heads up entertainment for CBS Interactive. “We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think it was there.”

*Digital rights clearances make streaming a music show much tougher than a game — note that the Super Bowl’s halftime show with Madonna was also kept off the Web.

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