Tube, tweets and trends
Is social media changing the way TV shows are produced, broadcast and perceived?
When was the last time you sat in front of your television set and watched something without fidgeting with your cell phone? Does sharing your views really matter?
These are just few of the questions that have something to do with the advent of social media and its impact, not only on the viewers but also on the brains behind mass media. And they are at work.
For instance, not very long ago, cricket used to be one of those things that was merely viewed but now fans want to express themselves. They don’t wish to keep their 10 cents to themselves. All of a sudden, everybody is an expert. Fittingly enough, Twitterverse is built for such mindset. So much so that tweeps would rather watch an entire match for the sake of live-tweeting. It’s no surprise why smartphones and tablets are more likely to be on the sofa as netizens get busy telling the world what’s hot and what’s not on the idiot box.
For what it’s worth, reading a witty comment posted about a show gives viewers a sense of inclusion as seeing a reply from a friend about a show they are also watching develops a sense of community. The resulting interactive communication adds a new dimension to TV experience as viewers find an annoying reality show funnier when they are able to comment about a ‘terrible’ singer, ‘bizarre’ clothing, post snide remarks for no reason or turn jubilant when their least favourite Bigg Boss contestant is eliminated or when their favourite Indian Premier League (IPL) team wins.
Speaking of cricket, the audience would prefer not to wait for the newspaper to carry the match analysis. Especially when every single ball, let alone over, can be apprised on a per tweet basis. Sundar Raman, CEO of IPL, highlights an important nuance about the newfound phenomenon. He says, “The pattern of TV viewership is changing drastically. Audiences no longer watch TV as silent participants. Twitter provides fans with an opportunity to contribute and engage with fellow viewers as well as celebrities. On a commercial side, this is also a chance to increase TSU (Time Spent per User) for TV content. It’s working effectively.”
In the meanwhile, some concrete work gets done behind the scene. Television industry solicits feedback and improvises accordingly. It doesn’t wait for the month-end report to arrive. Hashtags make life easier for them as receiving updated information in real time is an indispensable asset in the world of entertainment.
Anything can trend and become a topic of online discussion. Regardless, what is intriguing about this human aspect is the low attention span. Kallie Purie, chief creative officer of India Today Group, feels social media somehow makes the most of this fickle effect amongst the virtual masses. “This is exactly where a platform like Twitter comes in handy. It can be a sticky tool to hold your audiences’ interest. Reality shows, contests and online polls have helped increase TRPs and that trend will only grow as we move on. Also, Twitter can help channels pull real-time reactions and comments related to a given issue. People love to stay on to see what others have to say,” she elaborates.
There are several players on the social media platform. However, needless to mention, the fastest mode of communication to allow this difference is Twitter. And it’s not just restricted to youth anymore. So much so that Nielsen recently did a study and found a co-relation between people tweeting about a certain TV show and its relative rating. After all, a lot of families today have increasingly started to combine TV viewing with the use of information networks to discuss and deliberate what they have watched as well as what they missed. This is particularly the case in the Indian context while watching daily soaps, reality shows and sports tournaments beamed live on their TV sets.
There’s a reason why Arnab Goswami instantly became an Internet meme. The Newshour might be the most watched news show in the country but a lot of amusing episodes unfold on public timeline. Apart from the serious topics discussed, the vitriolic on public display doesn’t go unnoticed and unused for humour material. “People engage in furious debates while the panel discussion is happening live on-air. Social media has taken people back to the basic need of sharing ideas. However, it’s more about abbreviated emotions within a 140-character space and quick responses from followers,” informs Vice President of Times Television Network, Zoom TV and Times Now, Avinash Kaul.
Similarly, Bigg Boss — love it or hate it — is still ferociously discussed on the timeline. Kapil Sharma’s wry sense of humour witnesses floods of tweets in his honour almost every passing weekend on his show Comedy Nights with Kapil. He’s not immune to criticism either though. Often chided for going overboard with some jokes, he is praised too for his wisecracks. In the same way, every single musical performance on MTV Coke Studio is prey to constant scrutiny by the viewers.
Last year, Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate trended every single Sunday it was broadcast. The buzz is that its second season is on cards and the virtual world will play a huge role in its success. As expected, Star India carried the digital gusto ahead with Nach Baliye 5. Explaining the reason, Gayatri Yadav, executive vice-president of marketing, Star, says, “There has been a great power in synchronising the screen — putting Twitter on TV and TV on Twitter — which helps take the conversation to the next level. We’ve been big believers in the power of social networking.”
This peculiar belief has worked wonders for electronic media in specific ways. There’s not a single media group out there in the market which doesn’t have a base to touch on the social media platform. Different channels have different strategies though. Sometimes the motivation to participate in an event works in a network’s favour as has been the case with many popular TV shows.
Ekalavya Bhattacharya, MTV India’s digital head, has an entertaining anecdote to share on this direct-to-people modus operandi. “Twitter played a pivotal role in our content strategy when we crowdsourced the route for the second season of Drive With MTV. Thousands of fans sent in their suggestions and we drew up a route map using their preferences during the journey these users not only helped out the contestants by providing travel tips. Some even hosted them in their city,” he explains.
The only plausible drawback of this marriage between content and consumers is the lack of geographic spread. With about 20 per cent Internet penetration in the country and only 50 per cent of them active on social media, the future looks speculative. Nonetheless, Vivek Srivastava, head of strategy, Colors, believes social media platforms will continue to be great engagement drivers irrespective of the location. “The consumption is much more in the metros and mini-metropolitan areas but with further Internet connectivity, the access will grow in smaller markets as well,” he says.
With tweets being a parametre of effective coverage these days, the television industry satiates public’s eternal appetite for ephemeral fame thereby creating an illusion of viewer engagement. It’s symbiotic but nobody seems to question it. For example, using Twitter via SMS initiative was successful in Tier-2 cities like Kanpur, Bhopal and Indore.
Vice President of Sony/SET, Gaurav Seth, is optimistic about this growing influence and sees no reason why there would be a decline in numbers, be it of viewers or netizens. “I think as the number of online users increases, personalities and brands will find it extremely useful in interacting with this community of people whether it is for building salience, obtaining feedback or building bonds with them.”
Fair enough. As of now, the question confronting the celebrated tube and its relationship with digital world is the usual — what next?