Twitter Drives Crowds Back to Must-See, Live, Appointment TV

If you thought the future of TV was anarchy, with all of us using on-demand video to dial up shows any old time, think again. Social media, like Twitter, is putting us back on the same schedule.

Twitter vintage TV


TV watching has been drifting toward anarchy. With the advent of DVRs and video-on-demand, we’re no longer beholden to network schedules. We can watch what we like when we like. But social media is restoring the idea of appointment TV for people who want to experience shows with others, said Robin Sloan of Twitter’s media partnerships team at GigaOM’s New TeeVee Live conference Wednesday.

“[In the last 18 months], I think we actually saw the pendulum swing back toward things like shared experiences, back toward live TV. I think Twitter, of course, is one of the things that drove this,” he said.

Part of that is because of people tweeting each other–and creating excitement among their followers–during shows themselves. But tweeting won’t necessarily give a boost to every show. It seems to work particularly well for big live shows “where the outcome is uncertain,” Sloan said, like an awards show or a reality TV competition.

Among the strategies that leverage Twitter the best, Sloan said, are “synchronous show tweeting,” when people involved in the show send out missives as it’s happening, giving insight into what’s happening on stage or glimpses into what’s happening off–“sort of like a new and live DVD commentary track,” Sloan said.

Sloan also pointed to what he calls “social viewing”–“the simple stuff that makes people realize they’re not alone.” HBO, for example, created, a site that curates tweets about the vampire hit True Blood. “If you’re interested in following along live during the show, it’s really easy to do,” Sloan said. “You don’t have to figure out all the hashtags and all the search terms. You just come here, and they do it for you.”

And then there are entirely new kinds of content that bake Twitter right into the show itself, like when MTV’s Video Music Awards hired a TJ (“Twitter Jockey”) to report out–during the awards show itself–about the conversation going on on Twitter and tallying up, sports reporter-style, the amount of buzz each musician was getting.


Integrating Twitter into a show’s overall strategy can actually affect ratings, Sloan said. When Oxygen Media piloted a “social viewing party” for Bad Girls Club viewers on the East Coast, ratings went up 92%. The same show on the West Coast, which didn’t have a social viewing party, only went up 14%, according to a Twitter case study. “A Twitter strategy,” Sloan said, “is just as important as focusing the lights and charging up the microphones.”

For more on the marriage between Twitter and TV, stay tuned to this space on November 17 for a forthcoming feature from the December/January issue of Fast Company.

[Image: Transformed photo from Flickr user Marcin Wichary].

About the author

E.B. Boyd (@ebboyd) has holed up in conference rooms with pioneers in Silicon Valley and hunkered down in bunkers with soldiers in Afghanistan.