Audience interaction with television has grown rapidly since the dawn of social media. Formally reduced to writing in on postcards and phone line voting, fans now have a wealth of ways to keep up to date, engage with and chat about their favourite shows, as well as becoming more active in advert breaks too.
The change has been so significant that some, such as Keith Hindle of FremantleMedia, are proclaiming social media as more important than a show’s ratings. Speaking to Oscar Williams of The Guardian in 2012, Hindle said, “a few years ago, the only things that mattered was ratings. Now what matters more is the level of social engagement around the content”. But how has television changed by social media?
Using On-Screen Hashtags
Perhaps the most popular move TV shows have adopted is also the simplest. After each episode, TV fans will naturally want to talk about an episode to their friends or followers. In order to group all this chatter together, networks create their own hashtags and overlay them while the episode is on air, such as the BBC’s ‘Have I Got New For You’ flashing the hashtag #hignfy. It’s an unobtrusive way to encourage fans to keep their online activity up and shows can even dictate fans chatter by changing up their hashtags.
Most shows will keep their name (or some abbreviation of, as the case above) as their hashtag, occasionally changing it for series premiere or finale broadcasts, but the best shows drive engagement with specific aspects of their content.
In Community, characters Troy and Abed live-tweeted a fellow character’s moving day with #AnniesMove and encouraged viewers to do the same, making them feel part of the show. World Wrestling Entertainment regularly sports specific hashtags for their pay-per-view events and championship matches meaning they can monitor which matches and athletes drive the most engagement online, while also making their product regularly trend worldwide on Twitter.
Changing The On-Air Product
WWE fans also used social media earlier this year to voice their complaints at the amount of time female wrestlers (referred to as ‘divas’) were given on Raw, a three hour show that regularly featured only one match between women, often given much less time than their male counterparts.
The hashtag #GiveDivasAChance began trending each week until the WWE listened and increased the frequency and duration of their women’s matches. WWE eventually even incorporated the movement into their programming by promoting three popular, developmental talents to their main roster and pushing the hashtag #DivasRevolution in an exciting revamp of their weekly show. The interactivity of television is extremely visible when it comes to on-air controversy (who can forget The Great British Bake Off’s baked Alaska-gate?) and in the case of WWE, took a social media movement and used it to make its product better.
Audience members are therefore encouraged to drive even more social engagement with the company, as they can look upon the #DivasRevolution as a source of inspiration for future online campaigns and an example of real change brought on by the audience.
Interacting During Advert Breaks
TV shows aren’t the only medium wanting to capitalise on viewers’ smartphone access, as a small number of interactive adverts have been rolled out to see if audiences are just as open to brands and bands as they are to talking about characters and plotlines.
During an advert break of the UK’s Channel 4 show 8 Out of 10 Cats, viewers had the chance to interact with a premiering music video by the band Years & Years.
Tweeting #ChooseDark, #ChooseLight or #ChooseShadow altered between three different iterations of the music video of their song ‘Shine’, with the frequency of each hashtag measured each 30 seconds and the displayed video altering if a new hashtag became the most popular. The three videos are still available on the band’s website meaning fans could watch all three of the videos in their entirety and they are encouraged to comment using the same hashtags even after the interactive advert ceased airing.
Forming Active Communities
As social media has brought fans of each television series together, they also form online communities that perpetually keep themselves engaged with content, even while the product is not on-air. Reddit is the home of hundreds of such communities, as fans pose questions, post fan art and create retrospective videos meaning those who love the show always have a way to get their fix while new episodes are filmed. One only needs to look at the amount of screencaps, GIFs and memes that are created within hours of a new episode airing to see how active fanbases can be.
Official announcements and press releases skyrocket to the top of these forums, and even shows that have finished such as Breaking Bad live on through community-wide rewatches. These subreddits are also a great source of reinvention, as many communities create games to play themed around television shows.
Social media will continue to evolve and bring new levels of audience interaction with television, but what can we expect in the future? Sofie Sandell, international speaker and author of Digital Leadership thinks the ‘second screen’ will become a bigger part of our TV viewing.
“We want to share what we love to watch and when viewers start using hashtags on Twitter and Instagram they are creating a community. This gives marketers and TV distributors new insights and information about who their engaged viewers are. Many big shows already have their own apps for smartphones where people can interact and vote if there are any competitive elements in the TV programme. This will be fine-tuned and we are going to be even more dependent on the second screen.”
Could we perhaps see the same interactive apps used in reality and competitive shows integrated into a TV drama, with the audience dictating how the story changes over time? Such a production would be costly for live action drama as several versions of episodes would need to be created (and only one of them used to correspond to the audience’s desires). However, if the production was animated on a similar schedule like South Park, a television show could perhaps create an ‘interactive narrative’ with audience members voting at the end of an episode for what choices they want characters to take, and the following episode showing the repercussions.
Sofie also considers the lifespan of intellectual property an aspect worth capitalising on; keeping more shows available on services such as YouTube rather than restricting catch-up availability:
“TV networks also need to consider putting more of their content on YouTube. This is where people search for content and instead of having programmes available that are not uploaded legally, it would be much better to make more content available there.”
With so many list-based articles reminding readers of jokes from their favourite shows (especially classics from the 90s and early 2000s such as Friends), could we see the ability to share clips from said shows through social networks? Sony’s Playstation 4 implemented a share button for players to upload video clips through services such as Facebook, Ustream and Twitch. Could picture lists and memes of long-gone shows be replaced by legally licenced and user-shared clips, effectively acting as their own adverts?
How do you interact with your favourite TV shows? Let us know in the comment section below.
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