The Food Network and E! Networks don't attract nearly the viewership of ESPN, the highest-rated channel. But they're the leaders in social media, an area of growing importance to advertisers.
Food Network, which is owned by Scripps Networks Interactive (SNI), topped Engagement Labs eValue rankings of the most-engaged TV networks on Facebook (FB), while E!, owned by Comcast (CMCSA), scored highest on Twitter (TWTR). The company's metrics are calculated using a host of variables, including Facebook likes, retweets and how often networks engage with fans on social media.
Most channels tended to rank higher on one or the other social network, but 21st Century Fox's (FOXA) Fox News, the most popular cable news channel, was an exception. It ranked third on Facebook and second on Twitter.
The reasons behind the leading channels' success vary, according to Bryan Segal, the CEO of Engagement Labs. The Food Network, for instance, benefits from what he calls a "really strong content strategy," in which appeals to the channel's fans by posting recipes and meal images generate "lots of likes, shares and comments."
E! scored well on Twitter because of its timely updates on celebrity news, according to Segal. E! is also the home of Kim Kardashian West, star of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," who has more than 45 million followers on the microblogging site.
Time Warner's (TWX) Cartoon Network ranked third on Twitter, helped by the popularity of its Adult Swim programming block that's popular with young adult viewers. Walt Disney's (DIS) ESPN, by far the most-watched cable channel though its viewership is slipping, ranked fourth on Twitter even as it faces increased competition from rival sports networks. Viacom's (VIA) MTV, which has been struggling with declining viewership, finished fifth.
Scripps' HGTV and Fox Business, which have seen increases in TV audiences, ranked fourth and fifth on Facebook.
"The times are changing, and social networks play an instrumental role for broadcasters to drive eyeballs and loyalty to their content," Segal said, adding that the old and new forms of media aren't competing with one another. "Folks that are doing it right are meshing what they do online and offline to drive even greater reach and frequency."
Interest in the presidential election boosted the performance of Fox News and MSNBC, as people felt motivated to share their opinions online. Time Warner's CNN ranked eighth on Twitter and 11th on Facebook. PBS and Comcast's CNBC rated eighth and ninth on Facebook, respectively.
The broadcast networks -- Walt Disney's ABC, CBS (CBS is the corporate parent of CBSNews.com) and Comcast's NBC all had unimpressive rankings on both social networks, according to Engagement Labs' metrics. ABC finished 48th on Facebook and 41st on Twitter. CBS finished 27th on Twitter and 38th on Facebook. NBC ranked 50th -- dead last on Twitter -- and 40th on Facebook.