Here at TVWriter™ we like to look at the bright side. After all, if Twitter wasn’t up there on the interwebs with its denizens tweeting away their demands re how their favorite – and not so favorite – TV series should be written, directed, and acted (hey, nobody knows what to say about producing, you know?), somebody else would.
Alice Walker, however, has a different, darker perspective:
by Alice Walker
The rise of social media has fundamentally altered the way viewers interact with shows. For decades, the only way a fan could express love for a TV show was through a P.O. Box. Now, fans can directly reach showrunners, writers, producers, and actors in the split-second it takes to send a tweet.
Twitter is here, and it’s not going away. Whether this newfound accessibility helps or hurts television remains an open question, one that largely rests on how TV’s Powers That Be use this new tool.
Will the increased fan engagement help the quality of programming, and give fans a bigger voice in what networks will program? Or will it have the opposite effect by warping the creative process — and even the act of watching the show — in favor of pandering?
At the very least, this much is now true: A show’s survival is now directly connected to its Twitter presence. In 2013, Nielsen, which has measured TV audiences since 1950, updated its ratings model to include Twitter TV ratings. The system measures the TV-related conversations occurring on Twitter, encompassing not only the messages and hashtags pegged to a show, but the total reach of the tweets.
The unintentional side effect is tremendous pressure on showrunners to create new, tweet-driving TV moments. Shows that often hinge on sudden twists and dramatic moments, like Scandal and The Walking Dead, have developed a passionate Twitter base, becoming the top tweeted-about shows in 2015. Pretty Little Liars — another show known for its social media savvy fan base — aired its mystery-revealing season finale and yielded a whopping 4.5 million tweets. These moments don’t just increase the buzz of a show, or the “Twitter TV ratings.” They increase the actual ratings, as viewers who want to share the group-watching experience — and avoid being spoiled — tune in to watch live when they see a tweetstorm in progress.
Once a novelty, ranking as a “trending topic” is increasingly seen as crucial to survival in this competitive TV landscape. “People are planning [Twitter engagement] from the moment they start writing the show,” said Andrew Adashek, who manages Twitter’s TV partnerships, at a Variety panel discussion. “When they’re shooting, they’re capturing things ahead of time — and knowing that in six months or a year, that they are going to need that content to help bring the audience in….”