January 23, 2013 3:11pm PT by Michael O'Connell
MTV's 'Catfish': Ratings Swell Amid Manti Te'o Controversy
The newly inescapable buzzword known as "catfishing" is at least good news for its namesake. Ratings for MTV's Catfish: The TV Show jumped 30 percent with its first original episode since news of the on-topic Manti Te'o controversy broke last week.
Jumping from its previous week's showing of a 1.3 rating with adults 18-49, Nielsen shows the hourlong unscripted series matched a series high of a 1.7 rating with adults 18-49. It topped all other cable broadcasts in the key demo. In total viewers, Catfish also matched a high with 2.7 million viewers (up from 2.1 million).
A catfish, as so many recently learned, is a person posing as someone else with a fabricated online identity. The term entered the cultural lexicon in 2010 with the documentary Catfish, before MTV parlayed it into a series -- and countless outlets started using it in their coverage of Te'o.
The sports blog Deadspin revealed in a Jan. 16 exposé that Te'o -- the star Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman Trophy runner-up whose girlfriend supposedly died at the start of the college football season -- had been the subject of a hoax. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick brought up Catfish several times in describing the school's response to news that Te'o never had a girlfriend at all.
Catfish: The TV Show host Nev Schulman weighed in soon after, noting it "can and obviously does happen to anyone." The original Catfish film documented Schulman's own discovery that the person he met online was not who they claimed to be.
Traffic to MTV's Catfish website has also seen a boon in the wake of the term's new popularity. A network rep cites traffic growth of 50 percent in the eight-day period after the Te'o news -- and streams grew by 66 percent between Jan. 15 and 22.
MTV recently renewed Catfish for a second season.
"Catfish: The TV Show has truly captured the zeitgeist of the digital-dating age,” said MTV multiplatform executive vp Dave Sirulnick at the time of the renewal. "The show has resonated with our audience by portraying the real-life journeys of individuals trying to navigate the highs and lows of online dating -- an experience our viewers can relate to."