There are several reasons networks are flocking to air live events these days: They typically draw bigger ratings than scripted programming; they are advertiser-friendly because viewers tend not to skip the commercials; and they generate big "social media buzz," that ephemeral term that nonetheless sets executives' hearts aflutter.
NBC's "The Wiz Live!" -- a live performance of the Tony Award-winning Broadway hit "The Wiz" -- checked all these boxes Thursday night, especially the "social media buzz" one. According to the media-research firm Nielsen, more than one-quarter of a million people took to Twitter to send 1.6 million tweets about the show.
Tweets don't actually make a network money (yet), but they do constitute one way for a network to gauge the populace's reaction to its programming. The analytics firm Brandwatch not only tracks tweet volume but also categorizes sentiment. NBC's previous two live musicals, 2014's "Peter Pan" and 2013's "The Sound of Music" were marked by copious Twitter snark, with viewers making fun of everything from the trippy crocodile puppets on "Peter Pan" to the fact that everybody but Carrie Underwood (playing nun-turned-governess-turned-wife Maria) had an accent on "The Sound of Music."
This year, though, 85 percent of the tweets about "The Wiz Live!" were positive, according to Brandwatch.
The Brandwatch data also show that the most-tweeted-about moments were first when Dorothy (played by newcomer Shanice Williams) and her pals reach the Emerald City and the Wiz's palace, and then, right at the end of the show, when Dorothy finally returns home and delivers a standing-ovation-generator of a song, "Home." Indeed, "#home" was one of the top 10 hashtags used for the entire special.
For the big "Emerald City" sequence, director Kenny Leon, set designer Derek McLane and costume designer Paul Tazewell turned the palace into a hall full of voguing Emerald City denizens. The beginning of that scene saw almost 13,000 tweets sent in a single minute.
By itself, the hashtag "#TheWiz," the tag NBC promoted on-screen during the telecast, generated 6.5 billion impressions, meaning tweets using that tag were seen 6.5 billion times. The hashtag "#TheWizLive" generated another 1 billion. However, there's no statistical proof that high tweet volume causes viewers to tune in; it's more like certain shows with large audiences inspire lots of tweets.
The ratings for "The Wiz Live!" bear out the tweets-don't-equal-ratings maxim. While the tweet volume for "The Wiz" was more than triple that of "The Sound of Music," the former was outrated by the latter to the tune of 7 million total viewers.
Yet that's not to say there weren't intangible benefits for the network and, possibly, society. "The Wiz Live!" had an all-black cast, putting an end to NBC's streak of monochromatic productions, and Twitter noticed:
I don't even think NBC realizes the gift it gave our little black girls tonight #TheWizLive
— Ira Madison III (@ira) December 4, 2015