By Yuning Zhang – Data Analyst, and Brian Robinson – Media Research Manager

Facebook usage in the US peaks during primetime; TV viewing peaks in the same part of the day.* According to a recent survey by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), nearly seven-in-ten people use their smartphones while watching live television.

So it’s no surprise that TV shows are among the most popular topics of conversation on Facebook during primetime, or that TV shows are regularly among the top trending topics on Facebook.

Conversation about the first season of Fox’s Empire illustrates the relationship between TV shows and Facebook. We analyzed conversation on Facebook about the show from the premiere on January 7 through the finale on March 18, 2015.

Conversation spikes during commercial breaks

The chart below shows minute-by-minute conversation about Empire by people on Facebook in the US during the live broadcast of the pilot episode, where conversation = posts that included key terms related to the show (including show title, character names, actor names, and popular hashtags) and actions on those posts (likes, comments, and shares).

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For this episode, the volume of social conversation doubled during commercial breaks. We see this regularly for TV shows—during breaks many people turn to Facebook to join the conversation about what they’re watching.

This worked well for Empire—each episode included moments that generated social conversation, such as musical numbers, cameos by celebrities, and surprising plot twists. While we see show-related conversation spike during commercial breaks for many types of TV shows—including sports events and award shows—show-related spikes are smaller for programs that are less social in nature, such as procedural dramas and sitcoms.

Conversation about Empire grew throughout the season, with some of the biggest spikes coming right after major plot twists.

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Facebook introduces new people to TV shows

Empire was the first TV show in recent memory to grow its audience each week of the season. And each week, new people talked about the show on Facebook as fans encouraged friends to watch. On average, more than a million unique, new people in the US joined the conversation each week on Facebook.

According to Nielsen, 16.7 million people in the US watched at least six minutes of the two-hour Empire finale as it was broadcast live on March 18.** During that broadcast, 2.3 million people in the US engaged in conversations about the show on Facebook, with 15.8 million posts, likes, comments, and shares.

But those numbers don’t reflect the full participation of people on Facebook with Empire. As the finale was being broadcast, 18.3 million people in the US saw Empire-related posts in their News Feed. In other words, as the finale was being broadcast, there were more people in the US who saw posts about Empire on Facebook than who watched six or more minutes of the show.

Some of those people on Facebook were watching the show and didn’t actively participate in the conversation; even so, their News Feed reflected their real-life experience. Some weren’t watching and might have thought, based on the stories in their News Feed, “Maybe I should check out Empire?” The day after the finale, Empire was a trending topic on Facebook. Conversation about the show has continued throughout the summer, and it’s one of the most talked-about shows ahead of the new TV season.

We’re looking forward to watching season two of Empire and seeing how people talk about it on Facebook.

*Primetime = 8-11 p.m. Eastern, Mountain, and Pacific Time Zones; 7-10 p.m. Central Time Zone.
** Nielsen NPOWER, Live Reach of P2+ with a qualified audience of 6 minutes.