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Big Brother 15, West Coast Viewers & Guilt by Association

Posted In News, Projects - By On Wednesday, July 24th, 2013 With 0 Comments

Over at my own blog, I have been running an almost-daily series of posts looking at the current US reality series “Big Brother”, now in its 15th incarnation in the US (the 10th Australian series starts in a week or so). While I’ll direct you there for all of the details, here is a brief summary of the more interesting findings from the first couple of weeks of tracking the #bb15 hashtag (and associated terms, including #bblf (Big Brother Live Feed) and @cbsbigbrother).

Controversy provokes Tweets more than regular ‘game-show’ mechanics

Big Brother 15 has, since the first few shows, been beset by racism, sexism and other scandals, which they finally decided to air publicly on the 7 July CBS Broadcast, as I discuss here. The segment of the show in which the comments were aired heavily outranked the remainder of the episode in terms of tweets (peaks of 340/min vs. 100/min for other segments), and even attracted a West Coast audience (with peaks of 140/min), which as I will shortly discuss, is not a regular occurrence. This suggests that perhaps a wider audience was attracted to the show because of the airing of these segments, and the ratings for the show since the 7 July broadcast suggest that some of that audience stuck around – perhaps any publicity is good publicity.

[Note: This graph is not directly comparable to the ones that follow, as it used a previous version of our Twitter capture process]

The word map for this episode also clearly shows the dominant themes, with the main protagonist (Aaryn) and Racism both featuring heavily.

But, generally West Coast Audiences don’t tweet about tape delayed shows

Across all of the episodes, except the one portraying the racism scandal discussed above, a constant theme has been the lack of attention given to the West coast tape delayed broadcast of Big Brother. While the airing does show a noticeable spike in the traffic, this is from about 50 tweets per minute when the show is not airing (which is primarily discussion around the 24/7 live feed) to 100/minute, with peaks at 1/3 or 1/6 of East Coast levels, which is far greater than population alone would suggest:

10 July (More detail):

21 July (More detail):



There are a couple of possible theories for this; one is that many of those who care enough to tweet about the show care enough to find an East coast stream, and that this may be true more broadly, so that for sitcoms and other shows those wanting to join a conversation about an episode watch online, just as viewers overseas might. Another theory is that those tweeting about the show overlap heavily with those tweeting about the live feed, and as such many West Coasters would rather watch the live feed than the broadcast show; in which case this may be a phenomenon unique to Big Brother (and/or other reality shows with a live feed); I don’t have the data to draw a firm conclusion on that yet.

They care about tape delayed live shows even less

if you thought those graphs looked bad for viewer engagement from the perspective of West Coast broadcasters (and advertisers!), the live show figures are even worse. Each Thursday, the Big Brother eviction show is aired live on the East Coast, and tape delayed on the West Coast. While a power cut cost us the data from 11 July, Jeremy’s eviction on the 18 July was captured, and saw the West Coast airing of the show struggle to achieve 10% of the tweet volume of the East Coast broadcast (and the West Coast broadcast figures include people discussing the live feed, which is blacked out during the East Coast broadcast):

Guilt by (Twitter) Association carries into the media sphere

Separate from the raw analytics relating to each episode, I have also begun taking a look at the content of the tweets, in an aggregated form. Utilizing some methodology that my CCI colleague Axel Bruns has outlined, I took a look at tweets surrounding three houseguests who formed an early alliance called the “Triangle of Trust”, including Aaryn who was associated with the racism scandal discussed above. A theme of the Tweets (which I won’t quote specifically to avoid personal identification) and press reaction (See, for example, CNN/Jeremy, Daily Mail/Kaitlin) to-date is ‘guilt by association’, by which I refer to the degree that other housemates, particularly Jeremy and Kaitlin (who formed the ‘Triangle of trust” with Aaryn) have found themselves associated with remarks they didn’t make. A fuller description of what I did is in the longer post at my blog, but in summary a dendogram of terms and their proximity showed the association between different terms:

The same data can also be visualized as a 2D map of the terms, in which the closer they are, the greater the association:

And finally, the following chart shows how the terms associated with the three houseguests were distributed across the alliance members:

Big Brother 15 has proved an interesting test-case and proof-of-concept for me, in terms of both the current version of our Twitter capture software and also some additional analysis tools. I’ll continue to update on my own blog, and report back here when there are some significant findings.

About the Author

- Darryl is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries & Innovation, based at Queensland University of Technology. His research includes works on the video game and gambling industries.

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