Social media and television
Social media technologies allow for television to be accessed and shared in a variety of ways. Viewers can actively participate while watching a program and have their interactions viewed and responded to in real time by other viewers. Technologies such as smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers allow for theses actions to occur anytime, anywhere, regardless of television air times. Television stations and programs have taken advantage of this new accessibility by incorporating social media aspects into their programming and utilizing viewer comments to improve content.
Programs must decide on and promote a single hashtag for a show which in turn becomes the show's official hashtag when fans post about it. For example, the hashtag for Fox's Glee is #glee; for shows with longer titles such as FX network's American Horror Story, an abbreviated hashtag is created, #AHSFX. Some shows get creative with their hashtags, Showtime's Shameless uses #TeamGallagher to promote their show, Gallagher being the last name of the family in the show. A show's hashtag is usually placed on the lower corners of the screen during new airings of the show. The first official integration between Twitter hashtags and television programs was during Comedy Central's March 15, 2011 roast of Donald Trump. Using the hashtag #TrumpRoast at the bottom of the screen, Twitter called it "the single deepest integration of a Twitter hashtag on air-ever." The promotion worked, as it generated the channel's most-watched Tuesday in history; the hashtag #trumproast was used over 27,000 times on Twitter during the show's initial broadcast.
A strategy in increasing Internet traffic related to a single show is the placement of hashtags on the screen during dramatic moments, for example NBC's reality competition The Voice places #TheVoice on the screen during the part of the show where contestants get eliminated. Another affective way to increase traffic is to use what is called a "madlib" hashtag, a hashtag that goes at the beginning of a post that starts a sentence a user can then finish. An example of this was the hashtag #WhatWillGagaWear used by MTV at the 2011 Video Music Awards where viewers could speculate what they though performer Lady Gaga would wear to the event. Some shows create hashtags for promotional purposes. While advertising the fifth season of Jersey Shore, MTV used promos with various hashtags related to events in the show to generate buzz.
In addition to hashtags, programs can also create their own Twitter accounts. Usually used for talk shows or shows that have a host, similar to a hashtag, the program places @ followed by the specific Twitter handle at the bottom of the screen. CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight showed his Twitter handle @piersmorgan twice during a show, which generated 4,500 new followers as an immediate result. Accounts also make it possible for hosts to live-tweet during a prerecorded program. Comedy Central's Tosh.0 host Daniel Tosh live-tweets via his Twitter account @danieltosh during new airings of his show. Jeff Probst, host of CBS' Survivor, did not live-tweet at all during the show's 2010 season. In spring 2011, using the Twitter handle @JeffProbst, his live-tweeting during new episodes of the show dramatically[clarification needed] increased online traffic related to the show.
Fox’s crime drama Bones, under the Twitter handle @BONESonFOX, makes an effort to interact with fans and followers. In addition to being able to post on the back channel, followers of the Twitter account can use it to find and download music played during the program. The account also makes an effort to re-tweet and reply to fan posts using the hashtag #bones in their posts. Bones’ actors and creative team also hold live tweet sessions where followers can tweet questions about the show.
The HBO program True Blood has taken Twitter a step further by creating Twitter accounts for the fictional characters on the show. Using the tag #TrueBlood, these characters' tweets use dialogue specific to how they speak on the show. Unlike other, unofficial character Twitter accounts, all of the True Blood character accounts are created and maintained by HBO.
A cottage industry has sprung up around facilitating TV stations interaction with viewers. Companies like Mass Relevance, Never.no, TV Interact and Vidpresso all aim to help broadcasters more easily use social media.
Through the evolution of Facebook as the premier social networking site, television programs have taken advantage of the enormous amount of users by creating pages for users to "Like". After clicking "Like" on a page it will then show up under the user's interests. Television programs take advantage of this by creating exclusive posts that only those who have liked the page can see. The pages post updates that include air-times of new episodes, preview and behind the scenes clips, merchandise and coupon opportunities, and interviews with the show's actors and directors. Exclusive content is the enticement for Facebook users to "Like" the pages of their favorite shows. As of May 2011, 275 million users have Liked a television show page on Facebook. The average users has Liked at least six shows leading to an average of 1.65 billion Likes of television shows.
Seventeen of the top 100 most Liked pages are television programs with Fox's The Simpsons, Family Guy and Comedy Central's South Park being the top three most Liked television pages. A show's Likes on Facebook also trend over time, being the most Liked show on Facebook, The Simpsons (48 million likes) sees an average 1.23% weekly growth and a 0.15% daily growth (as of April 2012).
Social media sites
Studies have shown that social media sites such as Twitter have been used to calculate a portion of television ratings. The rise in various devices currently available for viewers to access television content on has caused for the traditional Nielsen Ratings system to become outdated and thus no longer capable of generating an accurate depiction of viewership. Functions such as online viewing, recorded DVR content, and live streams over the Internet are not taken into account when calculating television ratings. The Nielsen Media Research took a survey at the end of 2009 which concluded that 59% of Americans simultaneously watched television and accessed the internet at least once per month, spending 3.5 hours of simultaneous use per month. Rating information can be gathered through the social media site's "back-channel". While social media sites, specifically Twitter, have proven to be able to generate television rating numbers there are still limitations to that function. Twitter was not designed to calculate television ratings therefore more work needs to be done to refine the method to acquiring a look at viewership though the site.
The Grammy Awards provide an example of a direct correlation between back channel traffic and ratings. In 2010 the award show saw a 35% increase in viewers from the previous year's broadcast as a result of social media integration. A more extreme example of a social media ratings boost can be scene with the Oxygen Network's Bad Girls Club who's East Coast premiere saw a 97% ratings increase through social network activity where the West Coast airing, which offered no social element, only saw a 7% from the previous week. On the flipside, a large amount of online traffic does not always however translate into high ratings. A studied showed that while a large amount of online traffic may circulate about a program it does not necessarily mean that a large audience is physically watching.
Television programs such as the CW’s Gossip Girl, Supernatural, 90210 and NBC’s Community rank fairly low on the Nielsen Ratings scale and come in above 100 on the list on 200 most watched programs within original broadcast times. Despite this, each program ranks incredibly high on the 200 most watched programs online list with Gossip Girl being the most watched program online according to SideReel Ranking. On the other end of the spectrum, ratings hits such as CBS’ NCIS: Los Angeles, and reality shows such as Fox’s American Idol and ABC’s Dancing with the Stars have fairly low online viewership while delivering large numbers during original broadcasts. A possible explanation for this discrepancy could have to do with the age demographics of each program. Dramas like Gossip Girl and 90210 are targeted toward teens and young adults while American Idol and NCIS: Los Angeles have a much broader audiences including older viewers. SideReel described the phenomena as saying “Online TV viewers are younger and more discriminating. They’re driving consumption away from the TV set to the computer.”
The back-channel is the virtual conversation or information shared while a program is airing in real time. There must be a distinction made between television-related tweets and other information shared. Specific Hashtags, links, re-tweets, and "@" messages are all ways television programs and stations work to distinguish their content from being mixed in with unrelated content. For example searching the key word "lost" would provide you with all tweets containing the word as opposed to searching "#Lost" which makes the differential between the television series and the literal word "lost". Television programs are adopting Twitter's back-channel to directly obtain audiences' opinions about on-aired programs. Mobile-phones, computers, tablets, and other devices that can connect to the internet make is possible to access and contribute to the back-channel anytime, anywhere. A majority of total back channel conversation of a single show occurs during its initial broadcast.
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