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Online fine line: using social media to predict the Big Brother eviction

The suspense of reality TV hangs on viewers’ votes for contestants. Can social media predict winners and losers? AAP Image/Nine Network/Paul Broben

Reality television, alongside shows such as Q&A – which may be Reality TV in all but name – frequently drives social media conversations about the Australian television industry.

Big Brother, currently screening on Channel 9, is consistently among the shows with the highest levels of chatter in that regard. The precise Facebook data is hard to quantify but the Official Big Brother page boasts 805,400 likes and more than 59,000 comments since the start of the series, suggesting it has established a firm presence on that platform too.

But the degree to which social media participants are predictive of the television audiences voting patterns provides an interesting lens through which to examine the respective audiences.

The official Big Brother Australia webpage has launched an activity counter, the Big Brother Radar, which captures tweets and Facebook statuses by those who using official Channel 9 hashtags (e.g. #BBAUGemma).

But we also have our own tool monitoring Big Brother discussion, The Hypometer, which attempts to measure the underlying volume of discussion on social media (and, by possible inference, interest) in the housemates as a group, tracking multiple permutations of names and keywords.

In the second week of the show, a live vote for the dance-off of the “Perfect Pair” dance competition, in which the winners were awarded AU$30,000, was held between Lawson and Aisha & Dion and Jason. The public then voted for the winners through JumpIn; which may just as easily have been a popularity vote.

Indeed, if we use social-media activity as a barometer, it seems that could be the case. The running totals of tweets for the pairs showed a tight race, which Lawson & Aisha just pipped, and indeed the public vote came back 51.8% in favour of Lawson & Aisha.

Dance Competition Popularity: Lawson & Aisha vs. Dion & Jason. QUT Social Media Research Group

We are not yet confidently able to predict eviction outcomes through social-media data. All the same, the figures from the past two nomination/eviction rounds begin to allow us to understand the correlation between social media activity and the voting patterns of the television audience.

We have primarily used two forms of data: those tweets and Facebook comments that mention the housemates in some form, and those tweets that mention the word “vote” along with the name of the housemates.

For last week’s evictions (September 29/30), five housemates faced the public vote: Dion, Katie, Priya, Cat and Travis. Prior to the show on the 29th, Dion was ranked lowest in terms of social media activity, and was duly evicted by the voting public.

But the headline figure could be misleading. Cat was saved despite ranking lowest in total mentions, and Katie was evicted on the September 30, despite being the most talked-about housemate on Facebook and the second most talked-about on Twitter:

Twitter & Facebook mentions for nominated housemates: 24 Sep - 1 Oct. QUT Social Media Research Group

The secondary data, looking at co-mentions of the word “vote” and the housemate keywords, may tell part of the story, with Dion representing just 5.89% of these tweets, and Katie 8.75%, suggesting that, while people were tweeting about her, they weren’t voting to save her. Cat received 14.43% of those mentions, while Priya led the way with 32.54%.

This week, seven housemates faced the public vote, with Jake, Skye, Travis, Aisha, Cat, Lisa and David all nominated.

Monday night’s eviction, which saw Jake leaving the house seemed to take many by surprise – but Jake was the least talked about on Facebook during the nomination period and in a near-tie with Aisha for second lowest on Twitter.

Similarly, Skye – who was saved by the public vote – was the most-mentioned on Facebook and second (behind Cat) on Twitter prior to the vote closing, meaning her being saved should come as no surprise:

Twitter and Facebook nominated housemate mentions 1 - 7 October.

In “vote” mentions, Aisha led the week at 56%, followed by Skye on 45%. Jake received 19% of “vote” mentions, while David lagged behind on 4.62%. It was Lisa who was evicted though, with 8.08% of the “vote” mentions despite being frequently discussed, as with Katie previously.

So, while social media may not be able to confidently predict the evictions, it can certainly give us a nod in the right direction. For the record: Jake was 8.00 for eviction on Monday with the bookies, with Lisa at 6.50.

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