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Twitters Marriage To TV

Twitter, Televisions Life Support

Television has been a staple in millions of houses for generations now in our society.  I can remember as a youth racing down in the morning at eight am so that I did not miss my favorite show.  However, the standard time base programming structure that has been the norm for years is now in jeopardy and these days may be behind us.  Streaming has removed time and place from the equation with the ability to watch anything, any time, anywhere.  This new found freedom offers a threat to the standard system we all know, but luckily for television there is still hope.  Twitter, one of the largest social media networks in the world, provides support for time based viewing method.

To begin with we must look at what threatens the television industry as we know it?  As this class has taught us our society loves the convince of ready-at-hand technology as well as ready-to-hand. As Rainie’s article talks about a need for hyper-connectivity in our society, these technologies provide that.  We want everything to be in our pocket now and with services such as Netflix and Hulu available to stream content on thousands of devices this is possible for almost everyone.  As Bercovici points out in his Forbes article, almost 55% of Americans have confessed to consuming televisions the non traditional way.   Whether it be on a phone, tablet computer, or something completely different, over half of Americans have experimented with new forms of watching television.

Although these technologies have been around for a few years now they have never really threaten our standard television model.  The ratings have always been tied to original programming which for so many years was exclusive to broadcast.  However now that these streaming services are beginning to offer their own original shows that are thriving, there is a real fear this may be the future.  With Netflix stealing Emmy nominations away from broadcast TV and large corporations such as Amazon joining the streaming race there is a real chance that the future may be changing.  The ease of access is what these new technologies hold over the old model, and public loves it.

As the Turkle reading shows us, many of us have a tethered self that is tied to their phone.  Although the severity may vary, almost everyone in our society has the need to check their phones and their particular online networks daily for one reason or another.  For someone who is a devoted fan of a television show this tethered self makes it nearly impossible to fall behind on a show without certain points being reveled.  We surround ourselves with likeminded individuals like Aronson say in his article, so the chances that someone on one of our social networks has openly discussed something that has happened is probably pretty high.  This plays into the idea Aronson also talks about of cognitive dissonance, which is the uneasy state of being caused by differences in what you know should happening and what is happening.  Therefor when someone does not satisfy their tethered self because of fear of their shows plot being reveled, they suffer uneasiness from the unfamiliarity with avoiding their phone.  This dissonance is one of the major leading forces in keeping television alive.

Television has always been seen as a passive activity.  Something that required no interaction and was completely hands off.  Now a days though, Twitter has become a companion to watching television to some and is making its way into an active one.  According to a recent Nielsen report, “19 million unique people in the U.S. composed 263 million Tweets about live TV in Q2 2013 alone, a 24 percent year-over-year increase in authors and a 38 percent increase in Tweet volume.”  People tweet more and more about television, and as an industry they whole heartedly supports it.  As Bruno shows Breaking Bad’s series finale generated 1.23 million tweets with 70,000 tweets a minute at its peak.  While not winning the award for the most tweeted shows of all time, it is still one of the highest since Nielsen started measuring tweets a few months ago.  This spike in tweets is consistent with the record breaking ratings it also receives as Michael O’Connell points out in his article that states it brought in 10.4 million viewers.    Breaking Bad is a great example of how a show can implement Twitter to improve ratings.

Leading up to the finale, one of the lead actor’s of the show Aaron Paul hourly tweeted updates to remind fans that it was coming.  Was this single handedly why the show recorded almost twice as many viewers than any other episode? No, but it could be one of the many things Breaking Bad did well in order to attract viewers.  They also made it extremely easy to connect with others discussing their show by having a preset hash tag in the corner of the TV.  Most shows utilize this technique now because of how easy and effective it can be. ABC’s most recent success the Blacklist also attempted to engage viewers by offering live tweeting with the cast during the show.  This is one of the many things that propelled it to being the best new show of the fall season.

This interactivity offers people, such as Kent Gibson, who believes, “Laughing at a sitcom on TV, tweeting about it at the same time and hearing from other people also enjoying the show makes it funnier, and more valuable.”  She points out as a society we enjoy social interaction when it comes to our entertainment.  This is why we have viewing parties for season finales and is why watching live sporting events has become a group activity.  As Bruna Nessf’s article shows, football also experiences a strong online presence by creating over 20 million interactions on Twitter from 8 million different authors.  Television has always been a social platform although not usually considered by most. As Shirky shows us on page 99 of his book, the content is not the important thing, the content is merely their to spark and create conversation.  We really as a society just want something to talk about whether it is good or not which is how reality TV thrives.  Before it was Twitter it was huddling around the watercolor at work discussing the latest happenings on friends, or grabbing a beer at the bar and watching the game with some of your friends.  Twitter has simply provided a space for people to meet and converse at the connivance of their own personal schedule.

All of this online discussion has lead to statistical improvements in some cases.  If we look at both the Twitter TV rating as well as the TV ratings there are certain patterns that emerge.  We see successful correlations between Nededog’s article about recent Twitter ratings and Bibel’s about TV ratings.   While The Sound of Music live produced the fourth highest ratings for broadcast networks, it was able to steal the spot for most tweeted about show of the week.  American Horror Story also appeared as the fifth most tweeted show while also appearing seventh on Bibels other article regarding weekly cable ratings.  ABC’s recent success, Scandal, is a show which has built much of its popularity through the social hemispheres and was also featured on both lists.  While almost four million people watched the show on television making it the 12th most watched broadcast show of the week, almost four hundred thousand tweets made it the sixth most discussed show that week on Twitter.  During the same week Bonnie and Clyde, History channels new drama, registered almost two million unique audience impressions which was good enough to land it the 10th spot on Twitter.  This spike in tweets was consistent with its popularity which landed it 12th on cable television for that week.  Unfortunately this is where the connections ends seeing as how no other program was on the twitter TV ratings top ten as well as the top twenty five for broadcast or cable.

However this correlation between online fandom and real life ratings is not always as clear.  Pretty Little Liars, an ABC family original show, has one of the strongest online fan bases of any program week in and week out.  However as Umstead shows us, it does not necessarily relate.  As he puts it,  “Pretty Little Liars drew nearly 5 million more unique Twitter views during the week than Duck Dynasty – but the hit A&E reality show averaged 5 million more total viewers than Liars.”  Although this may be discouraging to the validity of the twitter ratings and their relevance to the TV industry, they still do hold true.  While the Nielsen ratings have been the standard for years the truth is they are not perfect.  To begin with the process in which they collect the ratings only takes into between sixteen and twenty thousand household units.  This has and still does provide a valid enough consensus of the national ratings with low margin of error.

Therefor it cannot be overlooked that Twitter is the voice of a much larger number of people.  Not only does Twitter offer insight into a large sample size, it offers a portal into the age group advertisers want most.  The target group for most television advertising campaigns are 18 to 49 year olds which are also the people that are on social media networks.  While pretty Little Liars benefits from a target group of teenage girls who are tech savvy, Duck Dynasty is directed towards an older generation who lacks the technological know how to interact.  As Social Guide shows us, according to their report on a Nielsen study, “a 14.0% increase in Twitter volume is associated with a 1% increase in TV program ratings for 35-49 year olds, reflecting a stronger relationship between Twitter and TV for younger audiences.”  As we can see this online presence provides everything a network could hope for from free advertising to increased ratings all at almost no effort.

This free advertising is not the only form Twitter offers. As Krashinsky mentioned, the predictions for Twitters total advertising revenue is to most likely surpass a billion dollars for the first time ever.  She quotes Starcom CEO Laura Desmond who says, “ When consumers are engaged with content across more than one screen, brands see a 72-per-cent rise in purchase intent.”  Although TV may not be largest buyer of Twitter ad space, it still is probably the largest beneficiary in a different way.  Every time a show is discusses on Twitter it is projected to other news feeds in your placeworld.  This outreach is exactly why shows support tweeting for their show, or other forms of online activity, because as the old saying goes any publicity is good publicity.  While the interaction a second screen makes you more likely to watch the program, seeing that your friends and others in your network are watching make it all that more appealing to check it out.  Television has also utilized some of the traditional forms of marketing that Twitter offers.  For example the NBA has been known to embed particular plays into certain posts regarding the sport.

Television has welcomed this connection with open arms.  To begin with as I have said almost every show offer a hash tag to promote online conversation in the bottom right hand corner.  Some shows take it one step further and offer interactivity beyond simple discussion.  To end the last season of Hawaii 5-0, producers offered viewers the chance to tweet in and vote for three different suspects they believed to be guilty. The network was to tally the result and whichever one garnered the most votes would be aired.  However since the results varied on the east and west coast so drastically, the network offered both zones different endings.  This level of interactivity would not be available without participatory media. Modern Family also recently attempted to sparked discussion online by offering a hash tag to vote for your favorite episodes to be played during a thanksgiving marathon.  Not only does this give people an incentive to watch the show, it was a marketing campaign that worked for its audience.  The show is one of the best family friendly shows around so what better to watch on thanksgiving together.

Twitter has began teaming up with cable provides specifically to help secure there spot in the television industry.  To begin with their recent agreement with Comcast for See-it is unprecedented.  See-it is a technology which allows people through twitter to embed a particular type of post when discussing a television program.  If someone who is a Comcast subscriber comes across that post they will have the ability to on the spot from that device chose to either stream an episode to that device, bring you to the on demand home screen, or set it to record on your home DVR.  In essence Twitter and your cellphone can act as a remote control for your television set.  Comcast, one of the largest cable providers in the nation, obviously sees the importance in social media integration.

Although it is rare to see a show reap negative benefits from integration of participatory media, it is certainly more effective in certain situations.  To begin with if you have shows targeting a teenage age group than building a strong online presence can vital.  As O’Connell shows Breaking Bad was only able to clear the two million viewers mark once within its first four seasons.  The show started season five with almost three million, the second half of the season returned to almost 6  million, and ended the series with a finale that cleared ten million.  The shows strong integration of a social media marketing campaign, along with offering previous episodes on streaming services, created a buzz like no other.  However this would not be possible without a tech savvy fan base.  For the same reason Duck Dynasty will never crack the most tweeted shows, many other programs targeting at older audiences will experience the same fate.  When the audience does not understand the landscape and the inner workings of the social network it becomes almost impossible for them to interact.  This shows us in order for a show to utilize participatory media, at least currently, it must pander to a younger audience who is familiar with this technology.  This is not to say it cannot be useful to almost any program, but the ones that see the most success target a younger audience.  That is why a show on a small teens network such as ABC Family can hold the record for the most tweeted scripted show on record.

Will Twitter be able to save time based television programming it the long run? Only time will tell.  However I can say for sure that without it the current television industry does not stand a chance.  Streaming is to powerful and appealing for the American people to resist and I think it is only a matter of time before most of our television needs are met through streaming.  However Twitter is equally as useful for the spread of non traditional television programming.  Twitter is a great companion for any form of media.  However the way television and Twitter have integrated has given both corporations the much needed support.

Brad Lee

Work Cited

Turkle, S. (2011). Chapter 9: The tethered self. In Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books

Aronson, E. (1997). Back to the future: Retrospective review of leon festinger’s–A theory of cognitive dissonance. The American Journal of Psychology, 110(1), 127-137. Retrieved from

Krashinsky, S. (2013, Apr 26). TV-twitter connection takes flight. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

Nielsen Launches ‘Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings’

Nessif, Bruna. Wait, Breaking Bad Wasn’t the Most-Tweeted About TV Show Finale Ever? Find Out Which Series Beat Walter White’s Sendoff(2013, Sept 30)

O’Connell, Michael. (2013, Sept 30)TV Ratings: ‘Breaking Bad’ Finale Smashes Records With 10.3 Million Viewers

Umstead, R. T. (2013). Cable scores in twitter-TV ranks. Multichannel News, 34(42), 27. Retrieved from

Gibbons, K. (2013). Twitter’s a TV ‘force multiplier’. Multichannel News, 34(42), 6. Retrieved from

Bercovici, J. (2013, Oct 28). Can twitter save TV? (and can TV save twitter?). Forbes, , 1. Retrieved from

SocialGuide; new study confirms correlation between twitter and TV ratings. (2013). Marketing Weekly News, , 195. Retrieved from

Rainie, L., & Wellman, B. The Mobile Revolution. In Networked: The New Social Operating System. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press

Jethro Nededog, NBC’s sound of music Topes Twitter Tv Ratings (December 9th 2013)

Bibel, Sara. TV Ratings Broadcast Top 25: ‘Sunday Night Football’ Tops Week 11 With Adults 18-49 & With Total Viewers. (December 10th 2013)

Bibel, Sara, Cable Top 25: ‘Monday Night Football’ Tops Cable Viewership for the Week Ending December 8, 2013. (December 10th 2013)

Shirkey, Clay. Here Comes Everybody.Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.

2 comments on “Twitters Marriage To TV

  1. John Reggy
    February 1, 2015

    Nice Work


  2. Pingback: A Look At TV Right Now | My Media Digest

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This entry was posted on January 26, 2015 by in Brad Lee, Reviews, Television, Twitter and tagged , , , , , .


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