Television is no longer a static activity. Social media is changing the way people interact with television and within television show fandoms.
Sonya Neunzert, 20, a digital arts major at the University of Oregon, said that social media is almost a requirement at this point. She uses Facebook and Tumblr to engage with communities that share the same interests.
Neunzert thinks that social media allows people to have insight into the thoughts of others on a daily basis. It’s effective, creative, and information spreads quickly.
“A lot of the online fandom communities, they analyze stuff like crazy, and they’ll come up with their own idea for things, or reinterpret stuff in interesting ways. I’ve always kind of done that a bit myself, but to see other peoples ideas and reinterpretations it makes me think what tropes show up and what trends happen in fiction.”
Neunzert isn’t alone in her thoughts. People are starting to watch television differently and starting to think about more than just the television show as an end unto itself.
“I can watch TV and see cool GIFs when they happen. When I’m watching TV, I can break it up into images and reactions I like…if I see a cool screencap that makes me want to either share it on Facebook or reblog it on Tumblr that will stick out in my mind,” said Ana Lind, also a digital arts major at the University of Oregon.
Social media is relatively new compared to television. The television industry is just starting to realize that there is a large market that basically lives on the Internet.
“Pretty much all of my time is spent on social media. When I’m in class and when I’m asleep is when I’m not on one of those sites,” said Tessa Freeland, 19, a cinema studies student at the University of Oregon.
Neunzert, Lind, and Freeland all said that they see mentions, photos, stories, and links pertaining to television shows on social media sites such as Tumblr, Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter on a daily basis.
Social media is quickly becoming one of the most effective ways to monitor how many people consume what kinds of television.
According to an online news report from Nielson, “increases in Twitter volume correlate to increases in TV ratings for varying age groups, revealing a stronger correlation for younger audiences. Specifically, the study found that for 18-34 year olds, an 8.5 percent increase in Twitter volume corresponds to a 1 percent increase in TV ratings for premiere episodes, and a 4.2 percent increase in Twitter volume corresponds with a 1 percent increase in ratings for midseason episodes.”
SocialGuide uses Twitter to measure discussions of TV. The social television analytics site was bought by Nielson, which now has a way to rate television shows that includes data gleaned from Twitter.
This way of understanding ratings can gather more accurate data because not all television is watched in real-time (DVR or online), but people on Twitter will still post about the shows they are watching regardless of when they watch it.
“My TV viewing has changed drastically since 2005. I used to just watch network television and sit through commercials and all of that. And even before Netflix really caught on my friends and I just started downloading episodes to skip the commercials…I do have cable TV again for the first time in a couple of years, but we tend to only watch on-demand things anyways…we rarely watch anything live as it airs,” said Patrick Lee, 26, digital arts major at the University of Oregon.
The Neilson report also says that these findings are not evidence of causality, but rather are indicative of a new type of community in social media where people listen to what others are saying about television shows and may be enticed into watching the show themselves.
In a poll on how Facebook and Twitter impact television, The Hollywood Reporter found that three out of 10 people watch a TV show because of interactions on social media sites.
“Between 60-70% of people, when they’re watching TV, also have a second screen device, such as a laptop, an iPad, or a mobile device,” says Mike Proulx in the book he co-authored: “Social TV: How Marketers Can Reach and Engage With Audiences by Connecting Television to Web, Social, Media, and Mobile”.
People don’t just watch TV shows; they interact while watching them. People discuss the shows with each other, tweet to and about celebrities, and participate in social media campaigns put on by networks and shows.
“Especially after I watch something, I’ll go onto Facebook and I’ll either make a post about it or message somebody who I know watches it and we’ll discuss it and then I’ll go to Reddit and find a thread about or pictures from it. And I use social media while watching television shows, though not too often. Usually it’s during key episodes, especially with ones I actually do watch on live TV, such as Game of Thrones and True Blood. During either the finale or and important episodes I’ll have Facebook open, or Skype and be talking with a person who’s also watching it at the same time,” said Freeland.
Twitter specifically gives fans a more fast, uninterrupted, and personal way of talking and getting new information about their favorite shows. Most networks on Twitter also release behind the scenes footage, commentary, insight into future episodes, and updates about the shows and celebrities involved.
There are many examples of television networks that use social media to their advantage, but The CW Television Network (joint-owned by CBS and Time Warner) is a prime illustration of how to successfully use social media to gain rankings but also build large, strong social networking communities around a television series.
The CW is well-known for it’s shows: “The Vampire Diaries,” “Gossip Girl,” “America’s Next Top Model,” “90210,” “Supernatural,” and the new “Beauty and the Beast,” which is quickly growing in popularity.
The CW also hosts episodes on their website, and they have a deal with Hulu making their shows easily accessible and free to watch online while still driving up ratings. MTV does the same thing with “Teen Wolf.”
The CW has made it a point to connect to fans via social media, specifically Twitter. In the favorite TV show category of Twitter’s Shorty Awards, ABC’s “Pretty Little Liars” (which has over 1 million followers) took first place. “The Vampire Diaries” garnered third place, “Teen Wolf” fifth place, and “Supernatural” tied for seventh place with ABC’s “Castle”.
Shows like “Supernatural” and “Teen Wolf” rank low on the Nielsen scale because they are not watched on live television as much as they are online, where they are ranked in the top television shows watched. This is because The CW and MTV target a younger audience, and this audience can be found largely online.
Shows aired on The CW and MTV are no doubt successful, but their success is not simply due to television ratings. Their success is built on large fanbases on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr that push the shows and their celebrities to new heights.
According to GetGlue’s statistics, “Supernatural” was the most talked about show of 2012. “Supernatural” has a fanbase that is unrelenting and extremely loyal to the show and to the cast and crew involved with the production.
GetGlue is a social networking site (connected to Foursquare) that focuses on television. It allows users to “check into” to the television shows, movies, and sports they are watching, using the website or a mobile app. GetGlue is partners with: 20th Century Fox, The CW, ABC Family, ESPN, HBO, MTV, Showtime, PBS, Syfy, USA Network, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros., to name a few.
Though each platform seems to have it’s own communities focused on certain shows. Lind, who considers herself a bit of a fan in the progress of watching the show, said that the CW Television Network’s “Supernatural” is heavily concentrated on Tumblr while other shows like “The Vampire Diaries” are more heavily followed and talked about on Facebook and Twitter.
Tumblr’s unique form of blogging that makes it possible to get a large amount of information to a large amount of people in a relatively short amount of time within a particular fandom.
The extent to which the SPN Family can influence results is exemplified by the 2013 People’s Choice Awards where “Supernatural” received the award for Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Show for the second year and won against shows like “The Walking Dead” and “The Vampire Diaries”, which are routinely higher than “Supernatural” in television ratings.
The SPN Family also won the 2013 People’s Choice Award for Favorite TV Fan Following, beating out fans of “Glee”, “Pretty Little Liars”, “Once Upon a Time”, and “The Vampire Diaries”.
“I’d say there’s definitely a distinct culture for every social media, especially Tumblr. I’m really surprised actually by how united that culture is because—It does depend on who you follow—it’s condensed in a way that even though Tumblr is amongst so many people, they’re all communicating with each other in kind of the same way. That doesn’t transfer necessarily to Facebook,” said Lind.
Neunzert says that information gets to people who aren’t even in certain fandoms. She also says her TV viewing has changed due to social media. She is more connected with the fandoms, and is thinking about television shows in an external context rather than in an internal, intertextual way.