Television and the Interactive Realm of Social Media

Every aspect of our lives have completely merged with Social Media, including the entertainment we take in and how we interact with it.  Out of all the mediums television has definitely seen the most seamless integration with a huge a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and tons of different websites that solely focus on fan participation.  The viewing experience has taken on a completely new level of interactivity in addition to the benefits of essential marketing and research tools only available on Social Media.

One of the major changes that has come with Social Media integration into television are fully interactive viewing experiences.  There are shows that have premiered in the last few months where Social Media has allowed the viewer to actually become another character on the show.  One of the best examples is the recent NBC reality show Escape Routes.  It’s an Amazing Race style series that pits teams of two against each other in urban locales as they go on scavenger hunts to accomplish different tasks, but the major difference is the viewer at home can help out the teams with their missions in real time, through Social Media as a virtual teammate.  The competitors on the show update their whereabouts and specific tasks while getting assistance online from the viewers at home who become virtual team members and if you’re local enough you can go to the city they’re in and help them out with the tasks, which completely breaks down the wall between a passive audience member and actually becoming an part of the show.

Escape Routes is one of the best examples of a fully interactive and immersive television experience, but lots of producers have integrated Social Media into different facets of their shows.  Watch What Happens Live, a late night talk show on Bravo hosted by reality show dilettante Andy Cohen, takes questions from Facebook and Twitter followers in real time that alter the show’s content and sometimes get a rise out of otherwise stale guests.  Bravo has been one of the early adapters of Social Media presence for their stable of reality show franchises.  They encourage their most prominent cast members to maintain weekly blogs that expand on each episodes weekly storylines, and they air what they call “Social” editions of some episodes that have pertinent tweets from the cast members commenting on the storylines as the action unfolds on screen.

Beyond integration with Social Media into a show’s actual storyline, producers and creators have turned to Facebook and Twitter as another gauge for a show’s success.  Before the Internet one of the only ways for a network to grasp the popularity of a show was through Nielson boxes, which are doled out to a mix of different demographics to get a numerical gauge of actual viewership.  Social Media hasn’t made Nielson numbers irrelevant, (they’re still the main way that advertising revenue is determined for networks), but Social Media has become a different type of barometer that can sometimes even save a low rated show from cancellation.  One of the best examples is the cult favorite absurdist NBC sitcom Community.  Even though it was shelved midway though it’s third season, the outpouring of support from its dedicated and mostly younger fanbase was enough for the network to let it finish out the last 12 episodes of its season and then make a final decision after that.

Series creator Dan Harmon attributed this turnaround to a new television audience that does most of their viewing online in unmeasured venues outside of the Nielson system.  In an interview with The New York Times Mr. Harmon said, “The most coveted demographic, and most coveted of that demographic, these very smart, upwardly mobile, college-age kids just don’t watch TV anymore.”  Social Media has become such a huge factor in not only changing the television experience, but also as marketing research for show developers and networks who can get tangible real world opinions from their actual audience instead of the sometimes unrealistic Nielson numbers.  The Internet has completely reshaped the entire entertainment industry, and especially television has gone through a complete transformation in every venue, from the couch, to the computer screen, to the boardroom.


Escape Routes



The New York Times

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