Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Twitter and the impact on TV

I have been on Twitter for under a year now, getting to it a bit late after I stubbornly thought it was a giant waste of my time. It took me a while to warm to it, at first deciding that I was not going to bother posting but would instead just follow a handful of people, this has since led to tweeting over 400 times and now following over 200 people, not what I intended but I am glad that I have embraced this social network site.
The majority of people that I follow (that I don't actually know) seem to be people in the TV and film industry including actors, writers, critics, reporters and show runners so wherever a big TV news story occurs I get a feed full of comments on this one topic, for example yesterday the big topic that Conan was going to be on cable rather than network TV featured heavily on my feed for a few hours. This factor and an article in Variety about TV show runners becoming Hollywood stars in their own right has led me to explore the notion that Twitter has enhanced the relationship between the fans and those involved in their favourite TV shows which can have both positive and negative results.
First up the negative; a comment about an episode that has just aired in the US may spoil it for a fan in another country, or for simply some one who has yet to catch up with their DVR. This happened today on my feed; Mary Lynn Rajskub who plays Chloe on 24 retweeted another comment that mentioned a major characters death in the most recent episode. This has annoyed some who live in countries where it hasn't aired prompting Rajskub to ask "I guess I have to be careful commenting on others tweets that could be spoilers... Or is it fair game tue am". I am of the opinion that if you don't want to be spoiled then avoid such places as Twitter until you have seen the episode in question as once it has aired then it is fair game to be spoken about the next day. I will say that with last seasons Dexter finale I was glad that regarding the shocking ending that most people just wrote that it was a shock, and not what the actual shock was, but I normally take my own advice and stay clear of Twitter until I am caught up on shows that can be spoiled such as Lost.
There are many positive attributes that have come from Twitter in regards to the relationships between the fans and those involved with these shows and even with the people who write about these shows. A connection that previously was not this instant now exists (this too can be bad I imagine, as it now means that a fan can vent with a lot more ease at these people as well, requiring a thick skin to handle potential abuse). This can mean that satisfaction (and the ugly side which is dissatisfaction) can be shared immediately when an episode airs. It can also mean that sneak peaks can be given, whether it is a song shared by Josh Schwartz that will feature in a new episode of Chuck or whether it is a behind the scenes picture from shows like The Vampire Diaries (look to actor Ernesto Riley who plays Alaric) or Bones (creator Hart Hanson and executive produce Stephen Nathan are regular posters).
The promotional impact of Twitter for TV shows means that the ones that might be struggling with the ratings such as Chuck can have a further voice to show that there are many that do watch and will talk about these shows, thus endorsing them on another platform. As Julie Plec executive producer on Vampire Diaries stated in the article for Variety "In my opinion, watching a Twitter feed during an episode of our show is a built-in focus group. They react to everything -- and it's fascinating because (over time) you get to witness your fan community as it builds and grows." This community consists of both regular TV watchers and those reporters and critics that get paid to write about these shows, in the Twitter world each now has a voice when it comes to opinions on these shows that can now be seen as more than just a figure for Nielsen ratings. Though the Nielsen ratings are still important in keeping shows on the air, the phrase 'Hack Nielsen' entered the Chuck fan community vocabulary a few weeks back and was seen on Twitter a lot before the last episode aired.
The impact of Twitter on TV as a whole is hard to see at this point but it must be said that for something that I thought would be inconsequential a year ago is something I now use daily. It is also something that I might have written about in my academic career as when I wrote my Masters dissertation on authorship in TV and whether it is possible in this post network era Twitter had not really exploded at this point. If it was where it is now I wonder if some of my conclusions would have been different as Twitter really has further given an identity to some of those people who are behind the shows that are big on TV now and the factor of fandom was one that was important in the construction of ideas of authorship. I look forward to seeing where this is all going and whether I will be able to get another study out regarding the state of authorship in TV in a few years time when the impact of social networking sites such as Twitter becomes more obvious.

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