Brands need to look beyond social media outcry when making big business decisions

David Hickey analyses the reasons behind the recent #SaveBrooklyn99 social media outcry, and what it means for the future of TV programming.

Last month, Brooklyn Nine-Nine became the latest show to be saved from cancellation following outcry from fans on social media. Within hours of Fox announcing the show’s cancellation, thousands of cult fans took to social media to express their outrage, making #SaveBrooklyn99 the top trending topic on Twitter Australia that day.

And networks responded quickly — Netflix, NBC, TBS and Hulu all threw their hats in the ring for the rights to continue the show. By the next day, NBC had acquired the show, greenlighting it for another season of 13 episodes.

The evidence pointing to the show’s cancellation

Despite viewer’s displeasure about the show’s axing, Fox’s move is somewhat unsurprising. A simple look at the show’s viewer numbers for its fifth season reveals that it was pulling its lowest average audience figures since its premiere, dipping to 2.7 million in season five — a decrease from season four’s 2.9 million average. This is a big difference compared to the numbers during the apex of its popularity, with figures like 6 million for its pilot and 15 million viewers when it aired as the lead-out show during Super Bowl XLVII in 2014.

During this peak in popularity, Fox moved the breakout comedy series from its Tuesday time slot to prime time on Sundays, one of the best slots in the US TV calendar. However, multiple schedule changes — back and forth between Sunday and Tuesday — may have led to the yearly dip in viewership.

These are some of the clear indicators showing that what precluded on May 11 had been on the table for a while.

So why did NBC pick up the show? The social media outcry during Fox’s cancellation would have something to do with it, with NBC entertainment chairman, Robert Greenblatt, stating that he received a lot of messages from outraged fans, and hoped the social chatter would also transfer when they watch the show on the new network.

Media exposure for Brooklyn Nine-Nine – 1 June 2017 to 1 June 2018

Taking a look at audience responses over the last year, Brooklyn Nine-Nine received between 4,000 to 29,000 social conversations, a far cry from the 245,000 spike in the month of its cancellation. The series saw a 728% increase in social conversations from April to May 2018.

This raises the question of whether making a big decision based only on social media outcry is going to guarantee long term success. There is a reason that Netflix, Hulu and TBS passed on bidding for the cult comedy series, despite the fan outcry. Perhaps analysis of the insights that had been scattered in the lead up to Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s cancellation — such as its constant schedule changes, decreasing viewership and the show’s alignment with other programs on the roster — affected these broadcaster’s interest in saving the show.

What we can all learn from the move

Time will tell whether NBC made the right move in acquiring the rights to Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but it does shine a spotlight on how all businesses can be using insights left online and offline to make more strategic decisions.

Monitoring your competitor’s actions in conjunction with listening to what target audiences are saying beyond a businesses’ four walls can offer outside insights that help inform better strategic decision making, even at major television networks. Ignoring these competitive breadcrumbs could result in a wrong business decision being made.

For now, we can only wait and see whether NBC made a viable business decision in picking up Brooklyn Nine-Nine so quickly.

David Hickey is director of strategy at Meltwater.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.