Boring old telly has been getting a lot more fun lately, if you are using Twitter. The micro-blogging service is increasingly becoming the back channel of broadcast, where people turn to exclaim delight or disgust about what they are watching. Tuned into Channel 4′s My Monkey Baby, and wondering what others are thinking about the parade of monkey loving characters? Popping onto Twitter and searching for the programme title reveals a trail of hilarious tweets, and you can add in, that is, if you actually want to confess that you are watching the show.
A television programme can come alive when you chime in with your own views, and see the intelligent, dumb, off-colour or utterly bizarre commentary of others, adding a whole new layer of entertainment experience. In America, broadcasters are fully embracing the interactive power of Twitter, with even local news stations inviting people to tweet in with updates about the weather conditions, or share views on issues. Political elections were the first and most noticeable examples of how the views of many can be shared using Twitter, as seen when Hack The Debate aired on Current TV in the lead up to the presidential elections.
For broadcasters, the service can be an instant way to guage if programming is having any impact on viewers, or, for the more clever, use the service to ignite interaction with audiences. When a show starts “trending” on Twitter, broadcast executives can know they have a hit, as has happened with Eurovision, ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent and Channel 4′s Surgery Live.
Twitter got noisy surrounding Eurovision, as it sparked hundreds of amusing tweets about the song contest, and gave rise to an alternative tweeting voice when journalist Ewan Spence used Twitter to cover the event from the show’s frontline in Moscow, sending tweets, blogging and podcasting from the event. Followers of @ewanspence got treated to extra facts, insights and a few trumpeted early previews of what was to come, as entrants paraded on stage in gladiator costumes, thigh high patent leather boots or full green body paint.
“I decided to offer pithy, humourous, pre-emptive insight of what we were all seeing, and joined 1,000 other press people from around Europe to cover Eurovision,” he said.
With viewing figures of 10 million in the UK, and 112 million across Europe for Eurovision this year, Spence thought that 2009 would be the year that millions of fans would tweet about the song contest, based on the growing number of entertainment trending topics he noticed, and recognizing that this year Twitter’s popularity has expanded, with estimates of 33 million monthly visits. He out-tweeted much of the official BBC correspondents by speed of updates and depth of information, winning rave reviews from followers. Several said they preferred the commentary of the renegade Eurovision tweet host to the banter of Graham Norton’s debut year as Eurovision host.
“The public love it, but mainstream coverage does not match up to the public viewpoint so the Internet’s communities are augmenting what they see using Twitter,” he said. Listen to an Audioboo interview with Ewan Spence here.
While Spence may still be a rare visionary in how he used Twitter as a journalist, the big broadcasters are certainly wading into the water with experiments. Channel 4′s Surgery Live invited people to send in questions using Twitter, some of which the show’s host Krishnan Guru-Murthy then posed to both the doctors, and even the patient, on live television. Following along with the programme’s hashtag of #slive, a rather surreal conversation developed with audience members, with one even asking if the patient’s brain tumour was edible. Brave, risky, groundbreaking, Channel 4 proved that entertainment can also be educational, and the show did manage to top Twitter’s most watched trending topics.
“What this new generation of social media brings is a networked conversation which is global, searchable, tagable and open. In other words, unlike emails, text messages or phones, you can join in a discussion among numerous people from right across the Uk and beyond — fellow viewers, experts, medical students, enthusiasts, all manner of interested parties — live and simultaneously,” said Adam Gee, Channel 4′s Cross-platform Commissioning Editor for Factual.
Channel 4 has just started a new programme incorporating Twitter, beginning to share updates from documentary film maker Ed Wardel, who is putting his wilderness survival skills to test in the Yukon, for the series Alone In The Wild. The programme airs in July, but Wardle has already started tweeting about his experience.
Using Twitter, and other social media websites, to add interactivity to television watching might just be transforming how we interact with the medium, and Twitter’s founders are keeping an eye toward possibilities, with news that a Twitter television show may be in works for the future.
“Twitter’s open approach might have the power to transform television — the dominant communications receiver worldwide. We’re very excited to see where these experiments take us,” posted Twitter founder Biz Stone on his blog.
In the not to distant future, a new transmedia entertainment venture called Purefold from Ag8, a partnership production with Blade Runner director Ridley Scott and Tony Scott’s RSA Films, will see an even more multi-layered approach to integrating social media with viewing experience. Purefold will cull storyline ideas from comments people share on Friend Feed, and other social networking websites. The programme is not planned to air on any maninstream channel, as episodes will be spread across the Internet’s video sharing platforms, and brands will be invited to collaborate in the content creation to fund the programming.
Confused? You are not alone. Best stay tuned, and have some fun participating in the 2.0 tool of Twitter, and think of it as training, to get ready to adpot for the entertainment world flashing forward to even more futuristic technologies.
Watching television and tweeting at the same time,