Twitter, which is preparing to go public, is banking on becoming a content and advertising layer over live events and TV. Facebook, which went public last year, now claims it’s able to do the same. Two companies that used to compete in an abstract way are now competing directly, and their fights are becoming extremely focused. The current battle: Breaking Bad.
In parallel publicity pushes, both Facebook and Twitter are touting Breaking Bad conversation stats as a sign that their network, not the other, is the place to go on Sunday night. The numbers — and their implications — aren’t so much directed at users as they are at advertisers and investors; the business world is currently sizing up Twitter’s potential and reevaluating Facebook’s business model in the process. Twitter shared that Breaking Bad fans together tweeted about the show 100,000 times a day in the run-up to Sunday’s finale. Facebook shared stats claiming that, since the beginning of August, 23 million “interactions” related to the show, generated by 11 million people, took place on its site.
These are two numbers that can’t be easily compared and say little about either site, other than that both are enormous. Facebook “interactions” include likes, shares and comments; Twitter’s tweets-per-day number means less than the number of tweets posted during the show. A direct comparison doesn’t pass the smell test: anyone who wants to follow along with the finale in real time will probably be doing so on Twitter (and even if you do play along, Twitter seems to be punching above its weight — it has under a third of Facebook’s user count). Finding recaps the next day, or fretting about what happened to Walt, on the other hand.
Anyway, one conclusion can be drawn from these numbers: TV isn’t truly centered around live TV anymore. No single show, not even last week’s record-breaking episode, has approached 11 million live viewers. (“Granite State” was watched live by 6.6 million people.) Together, these two social numbers constitute a much larger audience than Breaking Bad ever pulls in Nielsen’s live ratings.
This might seem to undermine live TV pitches from either Twitter or Facebook, but it shouldn’t — it says much more about how we watch TV now than it does about how we talk about it; there are DVRs, paid downloads, and pirates to consider. And Twitter and Facebook are counting international users, who can’t possibly be included in Nielsen stats but, pirates aside, who watch the show on a different schedule. Regardless, a captive audience of millions of people who then keep talking about your show is surely valuable, and the fact that there’s more conversation happening later doesn’t change that. Perhaps Twitter is where you watch the show live — where the spoilers are — and Facebook is where you go to catch up. Perhaps Facebook is where you ask questions of friends and Twitter is where they go to find the answers. Whatever the relationship, there’s more of it than there is live consumption of the show.
So this turf war — let’s say Facebook is the superpower aggressor, but Twitter is well-armed and surrounded by water — is certainly one worth fighting. There’s a lot to lose: The conversation, it seems, is outgrowing its subject.