Twitter may have finally met its match on Sunday night in Ellen DeGeneres. The host of the 86th Academy Awards posted a series of live tweets throughout the broadcast, but one in particular appeared to bring Twitter to its knees on its path to becoming the most retweeted post ever.
The selfie to end all selfies was captured in the audience by actor Bradley Cooper's outstretched arm and managed to squeeze a dozen celebrities in the frame. DeGeneres achieved her goal of drumming up the most retweets ever within an hour, and surpassed three million retweets by the following afternoon.
The Selfie That 'Broke Twitter'
The star-studded selfie spread like wildfire despite a 24-minute long service interruption that caused problems for Twitter immediately after Degeneres published the tweet. Within minutes, she gleefully told the audience "we crashed and broke Twitter."
The official account for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences even poked fun at the outage about 11 minutes later with a screen capture of an error page on the site and the quick message: "Sorry, our bad. #Oscars."
The previous record-holder for most retweets, a photo of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama in an embrace on election night in 2012, has garnered 781,780 retweets to date. Within 24 hours, DeGeneres' tweet beat that record four times over.
Comparing Retweets to Likes
While Twitter dominated the social conversation on Oscars night, it by no means has an exclusive on live TV chatter. Interestingly enough, DeGeneres cross-posted the Cooper-snapped selfie to Facebook where it has generated more than 2 million likes at last count. It's still a far cry from Obama's victory photo on Facebook and is unlikely to shatter that current record for the most likes with 4.4 million to date.
DeGeneres' social activity during the Oscars once again elevated Twitter to the front of the pack as the social media platform of choice for live events on TV. But the battle for second-screen companionship in real time on social media has never been more competitive. Just as Twitter finds its groove with key celebrities and major events in Hollywood, other services like Facebook and Google have picked up new flagship opportunities on American Idol.
Twitter may have accomplished its many feats during the Oscars' telecast organically, thanks in large part to DeGenere's activity and support throughout the event, but there are other avenues for second-screen relevance as well. Natural and unplanned social activity may follow the same logic that native advertising tries to convey, but there are still big partnerships to be inked with tent-pole TV programs.
American Idol Cozies Up to Facebook and Google
Facebook and Google certainly have their share of devoted users among the stars of Tinseltown and other pop culture entertainment, but that may not be enough to beat Twitter at its own game. The two companies signed a widespread agreement with Fox and the producers of American Idol last week to integrate more social activity into the struggling show that was once a ratings juggernaut.
The opening for Facebook and Google came soon after AT&T bailed out of a lucrative sponsorship deal that lasted 12 seasons. As fans of the show have increasingly shunned voting via text message in favor of online polling, AT&T's role and importance for the show waned to the point where it decided it best to move its massive advertising budget elsewhere.
While it may not do much to help improve ratings or lift the financial performance of the show, the deal puts Google and Facebook in a new light for the second screen with each serving new roles for the first time in such a capacity.
For its part, Facebook is powering real-time updates on the progress of votes for contestants. Facebook will provide updates on its site and support the show with on-air visuals that depict voting progress during select live shows. In a first for the show, viewers will be able to see how many votes finalists are receiving in real-time.
"Integrating content from Facebook into American Idol's live broadcast brings a new dimension to the viewing experience and enhances the connection fans have with the show and its contestants. With nearly 11 million fans of American Idol of Facebook, and all of the conversations people are already having on Facebook around live television events, there is an endless amount of creative potential through our partnership. We're very much looking forward to seeing that creativity come to life on and off Facebook throughout this season," Justin Osofsky, vice president of media partnerships and global operations at Facebook, said in a prepared statement.
While Facebook is adding a new data layer that provides insight into the voting as it happens, Google is actually powering the platform for online voting. In another first for Google, fans of the show can now cast votes for finalists directly from Google Search using the keywords "American Idol," "idol" or "American Idol voting."
Once fans log in to a Google account to cast their votes they are given the option to participate in Google Hangouts about the show, share those votes and follow contestants on Google+. Viewers can also still cast votes on AmericanIdol.com, the mobile app, via text message or toll-free calling.
The staying power displayed by Twitter during the Oscars telecast and the recent pairing of Facebook and Google with "American Idol" exemplifies the growing importance of live TV for social media's biggest stars. While retweets, likes and shares help drive these conversations around live events, it is the interest from advertisers that Facebook, Google and Twitter covet most.
Colossal Advertising Budgets at Stake
Social media channels aren't competing for eyeballs and the sake of popularity alone -- they are each seeking a stake in the massive TV advertising budgets that power the entire entertainment industry. The good news for Twitter, Facebook and Google is that users are already actively engaging on their platforms while watching TV.
Seven months have passed since Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg said as many as 100 million U.S. residents are using Facebook during prime-time TV hours. And just last month, Facebook's head of global marketing solutions said Facebook is in the final stages of a testing an auto play video ad unit that will be released "imminently."
The winners of the second-screen bonanza won't be determined only by the level of activity they experience with any specific event or program, but also the amount of new advertising revenue they can capture as a result. As advertisers increasingly shift their budgets from television to digital video ads, the onus remains on Twitter, Facebook and others to make their case for that eventual windfall.
Heralding a New Era for Live TV
Twitter is riding a wave of growth in real-time activity during entertainment events, but it has also seen a decline in usage during major live sporting events. Tweets during the NBA All-Star Game and the Super Bowl were down 21 percent and 3 percent, respectively, from last year, while chatter during the Grammys and Golden Globes was up 9 percent and 39 percent, respectively.
Before it gears up for the next retweet seen round the world, Twitter is patting itself on the back for a solid performance during the Oscars telecast that saw its highest TV ratings in a decade, according to Nielsen.
During the awards show, there were more than 14.7 million tweets containing terms related to the Oscars and 17.1 million relevant tweets overall. Oscar-related tweets in the United States were up 75 percent from last year and 2.8 million unique U.S. Twitter users posted tweets about the Oscars, according to Nielsen SocialGuide.
The Oscar nominees most tweeted about during the telecast included Jennifer Lawrence, Brad Pitt, Alfonso Cuaron, Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock. Meanwhile, the films that received the most mentions included "Gravity," "Frozen," "12 Years a Slave," "Dallas Buyers Club," and "The Wolf of Wall Street."
Twitter's presence at the Oscars also extended to the red carpet where E Online set up a "fashion turn" booth powered by Vine. Celebrities like Kerry Washington, John Legend and Chrissy Teigan took turns showing off their outfits for the evening in a full 360-degree view.
Read more about social media in CIO's Social Media Drilldown.