It wasn’t so long ago that you couldn’t skip ahead of a channel’s programming and sneak a peak at yet unaired episodes on the Internet. Instead, we all waited for the same night next week, speculating in the mean time on what would happen. Not knowing gave us a conversation, and we shared in the anticipation.
Then we started to stream episodes online at our convenience and without the ads. We downloaded whole series ahead of time and watched them alone at home, regardless of commercial schedules. We went from sharing the chapters of each story, to racing to the end of the book, only to get there alone.
There is no doubt that the convenience and flexibility of watching our favourite shows in our own time, on our own schedule, is entirely more appealing than fitting our lives around the columns in the Greenguide. But somewhere along the way to streamlining our viewing, the social side of television got misplaced.
For a little while it just seemed to disappear, but upon closer inspection it seems it has found a new host in the form of live variety or panel shows which can’t be leaked ahead of time. And our conversations have become live too, conducted as we watch, and shared over social media.
Every week, millions of viewers tune into programs where panellists debate current affairs, contestants perform or cook to avoid elimination and celebrities give exclusive interviews with popular talk show hosts. These are now the timeslots we race home for, not wanting to miss what everyone else is seeing for the first time. Not wanting to be the only one not in the loop.
Like before, we want to be part of the conversation about what we’re watching, but unlike before, this now takes place as we watch. A 2009 Neilson pole revealed that 57% of TV viewers in the US simultaneously use the web. It is impossible to guess how high that number has risen in the last three years, suffice to say that while people’s attention may be split, they are far from disconnected with what’s going on around them.
Every week the ABC in Australia reports thousands of unique users engage with popular panel show Q & A via Twitter, tweeting questions and responses both to the panel and each other in a flurry of conversation and debate. Talent shows like channel nine’s The Voice encourage their viewers (often in excess of a million) to vote via Twitter and even iTunes. Putting your money where your mouth is has never been such a simple click away.
So while the forum may have moved, the conversation is very much still taking place and we’re clamouring to be involved. Live programming coupled with social media has proven to be the ultimate social occasion and there are more people at the party than ever before.