Social Media is Changing Television

Often I have a hard time being able to dedicate my solid attention to the single television screen in front of me. Instead, I find myself interacting with numerous devices throughout the running time of a television show. This includes my attention spanning to that of my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feed. It is something inevitable and it happens constantly, no matter how entertaining a show may be. And I am not alone, in a survey conducted by TNS it found that 50% of Australians are engaged in other digital activities whilst watching television in the evening.

‘Second screen’ has become a popular term that applies to this multiple device viewing, wherein viewers interact on other portable devices (e.g smartphones, tablets, laptops) while watching television. With a majority of the Australian population participating in this idea of second screen viewing, we are able to multi-task through an entirety of a television series. We have the ability to scroll through our social media feeds, send emails, message friends and even watch YouTube videos.

Television networks are aware of the shift in our viewing habits. This has altered the way our interaction with TV has changed. Often television series encourage viewers to join in on the conversation online. This is through the TV series having its own Twitter account and hashtag to follow and interact with. Which allows at home viewers to participate in sharing their thoughts and opinions throughout the show. Television series are further implementing the use of second screen viewing by providing a live feed that constantly shares viewer’s own tweets through the hashtag filter.

Social TV defined by Mashable Australia refers to technologies surrounding television that promote communication and social interaction related to program’s content. Popular Australian networks, such as Channel Nine, ABC and Channel Ten, promote social TV by providing at home viewers with a live feed of tweets being played throughout major television shows. This includes Channel Ten’s popular reality series of #BacheloretteAU, ABC’s #QandA and Channel’s Nine reality renovating series #TheBlock. Each of the networks promote their social media presence throughout the running time of the show and the use of providing a live feed for the viewer. This encourages the audience to participate in conversation with each other, along with sharing their own personal thoughts and feelings towards the show. Even second screen viewing influenced the NSW Premier Mike Baird to live tweet The Bachelor finale.

In 2014 there was a study conducted by QUT’s Centre for Creative Industries and Innovation that compared My Kitchen Rules, The Block: Fans vs. Faves and The Biggest Loser with the show’s ratings and the interaction that was reflected on social media. It found that My Kitchen Rules had the largest audience, with around 1.6 million viewers, but it also was the most engaged with on social media.

“It gives the networks a raft of information and gives them the ability to see which particular moments of the show people connect with, and whether they were excited or annoyed by it,” said Darryl Woodford, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Centre.

Through popular networks encouraging at home viewers to participate in the conversation, it further promotes viewers to become an active audience. A study conducted found that a quarter of TV viewers reported that they were more aware of TV programs due to their social media interactions in a year-over-year comparison from 2012 to 2013. In 2013, 15 percent of viewers said they enjoyed watching television more when social media was involved. Through social media’s involvement in television, it promotes the idea of viewing content live rather than recording the program and watching it at a later time. With the at home viewer consuming the content live, it allows them to share their own thoughts and opinions with other individuals through the hashtag and their own accounts.

A comparsion in the number of tweets shared for these prime time TV series.

By doing this, it provides television shows easy advertising due to the viewers participating in conversation. It would not be a week night without my Twitter feed being filled by tweets about Channel Ten’s The Bachelorette. By the accounts that I follow interacting with the live content, I am made aware of what is occurring even though I am not watching that show at that time. Through my second screen viewing, I am able to engage in another show however not even feel the need to switch channels to do so.

So does second screen viewing make consuming television content more enjoyable for viewers? A survey conducted by the Consumer Electronics Assn. and National Assn of Television Program Executives (NATPE) found that 13% said that second screen viewing made their program viewing experience “much more enjoyable”. Whereas the majority of people surveyed showed that 67% said it made their program viewing experience “somewhat” better. Which showed that second screen viewing was not a necessity, but a good option to have while viewing a television program.

As television networks further incorporate the use of social TV, it has received some negative responses to its implementation. In 2012, The ABC network faced backlash after sharing an offensive tweet live on their show Q&A. The transphobic tweet was included live on air after Lt Col Catherine McGregor had shared her coming out story as transgender. The tweet referred to Lt Col McGregor as “she/he” after discussing being addressed by correct pronouns live on air. Recently, Q&A found themselves back in the headlines in regards to a lewd Twitter handle regarding Tony Abbott. A spokeswoman for the ABC stated that tweets are selected through “a multistage moderation process” which is based on the commentary that are held by the viewers on Twitter.

Screenshot via @FionaScottMP
A screenshot of the ABC’s Q&A program.

Whereas on the Channel Nine Network, executive producer of The Block, Justin Sturzaker constantly monitors the post share on social media accounts, including Facebook and Twitter. “We are now increasing our monitoring of social media, and if someone engages in a deliberate and deeply personal attack, we are going to remove those posts.” By better filtering of the tweets shared live on air, the producers aim to remove any hurtful attacks shared on social media accounts.

Through the growth of Social TV, The Channel Seven Network and Yahoo! Joined together to develop their own social media app Fango in 2011. Fango is a free application that makes watching TV more social. People can check-in to their favourite TV shows to let their friends know what they are watching; they can also chat about shows and see what other people are saying about them online. Fango offers show-related trivia, topical polls and gives viewers the ability to earn points and badges to reward their engagement. The app promotes second screen viewing and for viewers to participate in real time with their favourite television shows on the Seven Network. By mid-2012, the app had been downloaded more than half a million times by users. However, despite the number of downloads the app failed to convince consumers to move away from the current popular social media platforms of Facebook and Twitter. This resulted in the stand alone app being retired in the app store.

As our interaction with particular hashtags being to grow, television networks are constantly adapting to the changes in our viewing habits. Through encouragement and promotion of a particular television series, we find ourselves joining the online conversation.