by Robert van Alstyne
While industry pundits are rushing to predict which new TV series will be the breakout hit of the fall television season (my money’s on Nashville), the true star attraction isn’t even on the air. It’s the glowing mobile device in consumers’ laps. Here at Iconoculture we’ve closely chronicled the ascent of social media’s impact on in-the-moment television viewing via a series of in-depth trends. As tablet and smartphone ownership surges, viewer multitasking has become the new normal — social media activity during primetime is up 193% since 2011 (AdAge.com, 9 May 2012). Young consumers in particular now deem shows tune-in-worthy based on their Twitter feed and Facebook wall more than professional critical consensus.
This surge in real-time communal viewing is shaking the ground beneath the networks’ feet, amping the appeal of guilty-pleasure programs and giving birth to “hate-watching” (in which viewers tune in primarily to talk smack with each other about just how awful a show is). Innovative broadcasters are already finding ways to tactfully integrate all this consumer talk directly into their programming, be it “social edition” reruns with the tastiest tweets retrofitted onscreen, or inclusive after-shows that bring cast members out to talk shop with at-home Web-connected viewers (for a closer look at these phenomena, see our recent trend “Peanut-Gallery Power”). The takeaway for today? Any TV program that’s serious about long-term success must focus on facilitating stirring digital dialogue, or it can count on being the odd brand out at the digital water cooler.