For a long time now, TV executives have bemoaned the lack of “event TV”. Modern broadcast television is a fractured ghost of its previous self. People’s attention is no longer focused in a tight beam on 3 channels; we have millions of videos at a click on YouTube, full-length TV shows and films on iTunes, hundreds of channels on satellite and cable. That means there’s no longer a significant section of society sharing the experience of a television show and discussing it the next day at school/the office water-cooler.
But what they seem to have missed is that something very different, but equally significant, has replaced it: the instantaneously-shared TV experience, enabled by Twitter. With the omnipresence of laptops, broadband and Twitter, the sofa’s now connected. It’s possible to sit at home on your own and discuss, berate and dissect whatever’s on RIGHT NOW. Most of us have experienced shared TV viewing at some point in our lives. People my age would’ve probably sat in the living room with their parents, before every kid over the age of 6 got a TV in their bedrooms. Shared living, like student accommodation, is also a common way to experience it. As we get older our social circle tends to shrink, and television watching can become a more isolated affair.
Of course, the “old” ways of discussing TV still exist; we still enjoy vitriolic printed reviews in books, newspapers and magazines, we can still call someone and discuss a program over the phone. But these off-line methods are bandwidth-limited (we can only call one person at a time), slow (with a lead time of days or weeks for printed media) or uni-directional. Fundamentally, they lack immediacy.
In contrast Twitter enables us to connect with lots of people simultaneously; lots of people who are all sharing the same TV experience. It’s like having a load of sarcastic, funny mates in your living room. Ones that you can get rid off just by closing a laptop lid.
I’ve identified 5 major groups of TV twitters:
These helpful individuals post tweets about things they find interesting and are intending to watch themselves, normally along the lines of:
Guy Richie's Revolver is starting now on Channel 5 - the most confusing film I've ever seen!
The usefulness depends on the type of people you follow and on where in the world they are. @aplusk and @courtneylover79 are not going to be posting much about what’s on BBC 1 on a Sunday evening.
Crowds This accounts for the vast majority of people twittering about telly. They tend to congregate around large “event” programmes, Eurovision, Derren Brown, X-Factor etc, or geek-oriented watching such as Charlie Brookers recent (and excellent) Gameswipe. Of course any reality-TV type programme presents significant opportunities for Twitter-enabled sniping. We all know how much the internet loves this kind of “look at that!”, “lolwut”, “OMG!”, “loozer” stuff, but it’s often combined with genuinely funny material too.
Hangers-on This groups consists mostly of spammers, and people outside of the country where the program is being broadcast. They spot trending hashtags and either piggyback whatever they’re selling onto it, or tweet something along the lines of “What the hell is #nnn…?”. They don’t add much. Enough about them.
If you follow celebrities* - and lets be honest, who doesn’t? - the chances are they have some friends. And celebrities friends are quite often celebrities themselves (keep it in the family, eh?) so you’ll often see tweets like:
my friend on bbc2 newsnight right now! go sister!
Try to contain your excitement. Unless it’s you of course, and then you’re welcome to tweet
OMG!1!! I'm on TELLY!!
(* of course, by celebrity I mean anyone with more than 500 followers).
Some twitterers take it upon themselves to provide blow-by-blow, often eloquent and vaguely fantastical coverage of certain programmes. This can feel like having someone on LSD on the sofa next to you whispering in your ear. So probably not for those of a sensitive disposition.
Gregg keeps saying "I would happily eat that." To be fair, he would happily eat an old Big Mac out of a tramp's shoe.
This type of companionship can brighten even the most mundane viewing. It tends to be the product of “resting” writers or comedians, writer\comedians, or comedian\writers.
Will TV ever be the same again? For me it won’t.
(The @names have been changed to protect the innocent. Well, some of them…)