Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

The impact of Twitter on TV shows

By Kate Bulkley

The Guardian

Monday June 06 2011

For producers, posts on Facebook and Twitter are seen as indicators of success but do they influence ratings?

How TV programmes are discussed on Twitter. Source: TV Genius

Not so very long ago television producers and film-makers were thrilled if their projects had the "water cooler effect" that is to say the show, the programme or the film became a topic of conversation or chatter among people in offices, bars or the home.

Nowadays the conversations with the most clout are increasingly taking place among social network communities gathering online to take the "water cooler effect" into the twittersphere and on to the many pages of Facebook. A programme that is trending on Twitter is increasingly a currency of success or failure. Do enough people "like" your show on Facebook? Well, if not, then why not? And will your programme be a recommended "must watch" on the growing number of social network-style online television guides, such as the one offered on Freeview.

"Producers watch Twitter as their shows are going out with some trepidation," says Simon Nelson, a former controller of BBC Vision and now an adviser to a variety of media companies. "The influence of the twittersphere can disproportionately impact on a show, so if there is a torrent of abuse, or the other way around, a torrent of love, that shines a spotlight that is definitely a factor in commissioning meetings."

While Twitter and Facebook are having an impact among those who make and commission programmes, social media is not thought to be changing the way that TV schedules are put together, at least not yet. But it is certainly true that within the world of entertainment programming tweeters and Facebook fans have found a new way to enrich their TV viewing, for instance, by commenting on the latest twist in EastEnders or who is their favourite contestant on The Apprentice. Tens of thousands of people use The Apprentice Predictor with a real-time graph that fluctuates as people register who they think is most likely to win. The X Factor also has a huge social media presence with 2.5m Facebook fans and an average of 250,000 tweets an episode. X Factor recently launched live auditions on Facebook and YouTube.

Creating 'stickiness'

The X Factor, The Apprentice, Britain's Got Talent as well as The IT Crowd and the Rob Brydon Show, which are made by TalkbackThames, all have a social media editor who "curates" the social media conversations by adding images and clips and re-posting relevant tweets. "This helps create stickiness to the programmes and makes viewers feel that they are not just commenting to their friends, but also to the people who are producing the show," says Robert Marsh, head of TalkbackThames Digital.

TV Genius, a company that provides content discovery services to clients, tracks the number of tweets a TV programme receives when it is being broadcast. For example, EastEnders and The Only Way is Essex each regularly receive more than one tweet a second when the programmes are broadcast. At the end of series one, The Only Way is Essex had 220,000 "likes" on Facebook; today it has 420,000 "likes" and typically is in the top five of trending topics on Twitter in the UK when it is on air. "If you are a scheduler social media is great because it's keeping TV relevant," says Tom Weiss, CEO of TV Genius. Research TV Genius did last summer showed that 90% of people on social networks make suggestions about what to watch, but only about 10% of people take up the suggestions if they are about long-form TV programmes. "For online video clips social recommendation is key, but TV is different," says Weiss. "Social media doesn't drive viewing as much as it reflects who is viewing what."

Relevance is important in an increasingly crowded TV and online entertainment landscape, but so is finding new revenue. TalkbackThames is talking to the social media platforms about how they might monetise some of the social media traffic around their shows. Facebook is looking at using its bespoke currency, Facebook Credits, for paid games and voting applications. "I used to talk about traffic and audience engagement with broadcasters and programme makers," says Christian Hernandez, head of international business development for Facebook. "Now I can talk about money as well."

This article was produced in association with Crossover Labs and Sheffield Doc/Fest

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