In Online Engagement, 'True Detective' Season 3 Was a Massive Success

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO


After a three-year hiatus, there was plenty of skepticism surrounding the return of HBO’s True Detective. And while ratings were not able to match those of either the first or second season, critics lauded the Mahershala Ali-led story as a return to the quality of the debut, and a vast improvement over Colin Farrell/Vince Vaughn’s sophomore critical flop.

But beyond critics and ratings, online engagement offers multiple insights about how invested viewers really are. We looked at social media and other areas of the web, totaling around 400M sources, to gauge the frequency and sentiment of the series. And this is where True Detective Season 3 showed its true success.

Negative Vs. Positive Sentiment


The above graph illustrates how online sentiment about True Detective Season 1 started incredibly positive, and kept those numbers pretty high through the Season 2 premiere. But then things began to take a turn. After its debut, negative reactions to Season 2 began to rise, with each episode’s negative sentiment higher than anything in Season 1.

By the end, the finale of Season 2 is the only episode in the entire series that had more negative sentiment than positive.

Season 3, though, was able to maintain a fairly healthy ratio between positive and negative. While never hitting the incredibly high marks of Season 1’s first half, each episode elicited positive reactions, with only one episode receiving a notable percentage of negatives (Episode 4, “The Hour and the Day,” was also the lowest rated episode, by far, on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes).

Even more impressive, of all three seasons, Season 3 had the best positive/negative ratio for its finale.

Online Engagement Demographics


Despite its dip in ratings, True Detective Season 3 did show significant growth when it comes to the share of online engagement that came from the key demo of 25-54.

Much of this gain comes from a significant decline in engagement from the 13-18 demographic, which had risen during Season 2, and a more modest loss in the 19-24 demo.


Breaking the key demo down further, it shows that both the 25-34 demo and the 35-44 demo gained larger shares, saving a potential further shedding of these groups following Season 2.

Engagement Endurance


The valuable metric of Engagement Endurance doesn’t mean much yet for Season 3. What the above graph outlines is the amount of online engagement that exists during a season’s run, but also how much people continue to discuss it after the season is over.

As you can see, between Season 1 and Season 2, True Detective was still a fairly popular topic of discussion online. We can credit this both to the strong impression left by Season 1, as well as the momentum the series was able to carry with the news of Season 2. (For example, the spike you see in September of 2014 is when the casting of Colin Farrell was announced.)

But Season 2’s endurance was disappointing. After its finale, talk of True Detective rapidly declined, and with its extended hiatus, it ceased to be a popular topic of conversation for years.

How will Season 3 fare? It had some serious strength out of the gate, as the season started with the most online engagement the series has ever seen. There was some expected decline as the season continued, but with a finale that had such positive sentiment online, and with key demos becoming more engaged, it certainly looks promising.

It may take a few more weeks to see if Season 3 has stuck with people like Season 1, or faded away like Season 2, but there remains an X factor that only HBO can decide: will there be a True Detective Season 4?