By Kyle Murray, Class of 2012 —
“Where are my Scan-Dolls at???? Ya’ll ready???? If you live on the WEST COAST I suggest you get off of Facebook until 8pm your time!”
That was a recent Facebook status update from Kendra Brandon, a faithful viewer of the new hit ABC show, “Scandal.” Kendra sends out this message to her fellow “scan-dolls” on the West Coast as a warning: If you don’t want any secrets revealed before you watch the show live in your time zone, stay off her Facebook page.
“We like to talk about the show as it’s going on,” said Kendra, “sometimes ruining it for my friends in California, particularly my cousin Janine.”
Social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, have forever changed the way we watch television. Audiences have become dissatisfied with just watching a show, now they feel the need to be a part of it. Some shows will actually include Facebook status updates or Twitter tweets on their broadcast.
“It makes you feel good to think that people everywhere are seeing what YOU have to say,” said Kendra.
The phenomena of at home audience participation had its genesis in reality competition shows, such as Fox’s “American Idol.” At the end of each show, viewers at home were given a number to call or text in order to cast their vote for their favorite performers. The contestant with the lowest number of votes was sent home.
The show was a big hit for the network, at one point averaging over 20M viewers a week. In its 10 years on air, they have seen their voting numbers jump from 15M votes (2002’s finale) to 132M votes in (2012’s finale).
“The power to shape media content is not just in the hands of the few, but the individuals are able to have a voice to communicate as much as professionals,” said Dr. Barna Donovan, a Professor of Media Communications at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City.
Having studied trends in the media for 15 years, Barna has witnessed the evolution of social networking and the impact it has had on mediums like television.
“I think social interaction will continue to function more and more as a media trendsetter. It is definitely here to stay,” said Barna.
But for people like Kendra, it’s just a way to be a part of a community that allows her to express her opinion.
“I’m just having conversation, if the writers or producers are paying attention then that’s just a bonus,” said Kendra.
TV programs are now more than ever, encouraging their viewers to live chat via Twitter or Facebook during the actual show.
Deirdre Bannon recently told the Associated Press, “Twitter has become the second screen experience for television.”
Bannon is the Vice President of social media at Nielsen. Nielsen is a global information and measurement company that monitors trends in consumer behavior.
The Pew Research center is an organization that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the globe. In “The Rise of the Connected Viewer”, Pew reported that 38% of cell phone owners used their phone to keep themselves occupied during commercials or breaks in something they were watching. They also found that 11% used their phone to see what other people were saying online about a program they were watching, and posted their own comments online about a program.
“Years ago the conversation was out here, and now it’s on the Internet,” said Dr. Cynthia Walker, Research Analyst and Communications Professor at Saint Peter’s College.
Walker, who is currently writing a book on social media, credits the late Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan with identifying the trends in electronic communication that would lead to what he termed the “global village.” “[McLuhan] saw this coming, he saw Media becoming an environment,” said Dr. Walker.
As with many forward thinkers, his theories were met with skepticism. It was almost a decade after his death, the Internet became commercially viable, and a renewed interest in McLuhan’s work and perspective arose.
“We live partly in reality, and partly in cyberspace,” said Dr. Walker.
The water cooler at work was once the place where people gathered to talk about whatever was on their minds, including their favorite TV show moments from the night before. It was a place where you could give your opinion and hear what other people had to say. The Internet, however, has become the new water cooler, and these conversations are happening in real time.
“How often do you have all your friends in one place, at one time?” said Kendra.
Thanks to social media, we are connected to an extent like never before. The desire to be a part of the conversation is a growing behavior amongst audiences that seems to have no end in sight.