In one of the greatest marketing campaigns ever, IBM teamed with Jeopardy! for the Jeopardy! IBM Challenge. For months prior to the event, the challenge had been promoted on Jeopardy!. In addition to piquing the interest of the casual viewer, the promotion of this man vs. machine contest on Jeopardy! generated tons of word of mouth. Even more effective, however, were the commercials IBM ran explaining what Watson is and announcing that it would be competing on Jeopardy!. The Watson commercials aired at various times and on different networks allowing IBM to reach beyond the Jeopardy! audience.
If there was one problem I had with IBM’s Watson Campaign, it’s that the commercials that IBM ran talking about Watson never mentioned a date when the Jeopardy! episode would air. Knowing about the Watson Challenge, but not knowing when it would air, I constantly feared I would miss the episode–didn’t know it would be more than 1 episode at the time–and be left reading about it the next day. Determined not to let this happen, I constantly googled “Watson Jeopardy” until I found out the episodes would be airing starting February 14–I should’ve figured it would air during February sweeps.
I was not the only person intrigued by this man vs. machine battle. Many others were intrigued to watch Jeopardy! specifically to see what would happen with Watson. As former Jeopardy! champion LeeAundra Keany says in a blog-post for Discover magazine:
I haven’t watched Jeopardy! in years. Prepping a little too intensely for my 2005 appearance soured me on the show. It was only Watson that brought me back into the fold.
Whether it was due to word of mouth from Jeopardy! fans or a result of the IBM commercials piquing people’s interest, the fact is that these episodes, averaging a 9.1 rating, were a huge success.
To put things in perspective, this same time last year, Jeopardy! averaged 7.0 ratings for the month of February. That’s over a 2 point spike!
The first game of Jeopardy!, which was split among 2 days, got 8.8 and 9.5 overnight ratings on each respective night. The second game, which was shown in its entirety on the third and final episode of the Jeopardy! Watson Challenge, got a 9.1 rating. The slight dip was probably due to the absolute annihilation of the human contestants in the first game. At the end of the first game Watson had $35,734, Rutter had $10,400, and Jennings had $4,800.
The last time Jeopardy! did these kind of numbers was in May 2005, when Jennings and Rutter squared off in a Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. However, one thing to bear in mind is that getting a 9.1 rating today is much more difficult than it was in 2005. Technological advancements have made it easier than ever to watch what we want on our terms and because of this, T.V. shows are not seeing the same rating numbers they were just a few years ago–live events are the exception and that’s the reason sports and live user interactive shows like American Idol and Dancing With the Stars are favored by advertisers over more traditional television shows. Still, even with these advancements, Jeopardy! was able to draw these impressive numbers thanks to Watson and IBM.
If there was anyone who dropped the ball, it was Disney–Jeopardy! airs on ABC, owned by The Walt Disney Company. ABC did a great job promoting and capitalizing on the Lost finale, but seemingly dropped the ball here. Were I in Anne Sweeney’s shoes, I would’ve pushed for an hour long IBM Jeopardy! Challenge Special in primetime rather than have the first contest split into two IBM Jeopardy! Challenge episodes. ABC should have promoted the Watson Jeopardy! Challenge as a historic event–which it was. It’s difficult to imagine ABC approaching advertisers with this idea and advertisers not being intrigued by the potential to reach millions of people. Since I’m not sure what went on behind the scenes, I will give Disney and Ms. Sweeney the benefit of the doubt. Enough about ratings and ads.
In the end, the IBM Jeopardy! Challenge was a win-win for IBM and Jeopardy!; the episodes drew huge numbers for Jeopardy! and introduced Watson to the world. As a result of the great marketing campaign by IBM and Watson’s impressive performance on Jeopardy!, Watson has become a household name.
So what’s next for Watson? IBM has made arrangements to begin working with Columbia University Medical Center and the University of Maryland Medical School on health care analytics research.
I’m proud that I’ve got through this post without a mention of Skynet or Hal. Wait. . . that doesn’t count! Does it? Regardless, I couldn’t top Ken Jennings anyway.
Until next time.
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