But as social media becomes increasingly intertwined with our television viewing experience, Americans also may be tuning in to such live events to make sure they don’t miss the latest Internet meme.
“Having technology like Twitter and Facebook, and smart phones in our pockets and hands all the time, is causing these conversations and trends to become something basically in real time,” says Tom Thai, the vice-president of marketing for Bluefin Labs, a Massachusetts-based firm that analyzes social media conversation about TV. “If you’re not participating in this stuff live, there will be people who feel like they’re missing out.”
Let’s say you were not among the Nielsen-estimated 39.3 million people who watched Sunday’s Oscars.
Without the important background information provided by that telecast, you might have woken up the next morning not knowing that Angelina Jolie posed with her right leg popped into a purposely provocative position, which was then mimicked by Oscar-winning screenwriter Jim Rash, and which in turn spawned Twitter feeds, Tumblrs and assorted other parodies online. Miss that one minute and already, from a pop cultural perspective, you’re at least 10 steps behind — or, as those AT&T smart phone commercials coyly remind us, so 27 seconds ago.
“What we’ve been seeing over the past 12 to 14 months is huge growth in this behavior that we call social TV,” Thai adds. Underlining that point, Bluefin’s research on 2012 Oscar-related social media commentary — i.e. the amount of “OMG, did you see Jennifer Lopez’s dress?” type of chatter on Twitter — demonstrated a 293% increase year-over-year. And that came during a year that, with Billy Crystal as host and a silent film as the Academy Awards’ front-runner, was supposed to be for the fuddy duddies.
There is no question that over the past two decades, media consumption has become more fragmented. For example, the ratings that the Academy Awards snagged back in the 1990s — when each telecast routinely attracted well over 40 million sets of eyeballs — are relics of an era when we didn’t have iPads, blogs or saved DVR programs to distract us from watching the big TV event of the night.
But while those Oscar numbers may never be matched again, the Internet is definitely helping to keep it and other television events relevant.
“It’s a little bit of a rebirth of sorts, actually,” Thai says.
In a recent TVGuide.com study, 31% of responders said they continue to watch certain programs because of something they saw or read on social media sites. And 27% said they more frequently watch live television — both one-time events and regular series — so the experience won’t be ruined by spoilers.
Those spoilers they desperately strain to avoid? They often pop up on Facebook or Twitter. Yes, the consumption of pop culture in the digital era is a vicious, unrelenting cycle, and one that shows no signs of stopping its continuous churn.
Do you routinely watch television while simultaneously tweeting and Facebooking about it? Do you only do so during big events like the Academy Awards? Or do you go out of your way to watch TV at a great distance from any and all digital devices? Weigh in with a comment.