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Turn on, tune in, or miss out

Angelina Jolie’s right leg was one of the more memorable Internet memes from the 84th Academy Awards on Feb. 26. (Matt Sayles/AP)

Conventional wisdom suggests that we watch the Academy Awards or the Grammys because of our interest in film, music and the mind-bogglingly expensive fashions celebrities wear.

But as social media intertwines with our television viewing, 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, 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 the Billy Crystal-hosted Oscars. You might have woken up the next morning not knowing that Angelina Jolie posed with her right leg in a provocative position, which was immediately mimicked by Jim Rash when he picked up his screenwriting Oscar, spawning Twitter feeds, Tumblrs and assorted other parodies online. Miss that one minute and already you’re at least 10 steps behind in pop culture — or, as those AT&T smart phone commercials coyly remind us, you’re 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 says.

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?” chatter on Twitter — showed a 293 percent increase from 2011 to 2012. And that came during a year when, with a silent film as the front-runner, the show was supposed to be for the fuddy duddies.

That the Internet is helping to keep that telecast and others relevant is “a little bit of a rebirth of sorts, actually,” Thai says.

In a recent study, 31 percent of responders said they continue to watch certain programs because of something they saw or read on social media sites. And 27 percent said they more frequently watch live television — both one-time events and regular series — so the experience won’t be ruined by spoilers.

Of course, spoilers often pop up on Facebook or Twitter. Yes, the consumption of pop culture in the digital era is an unrelenting cycle.

When she isn’t at a movie theater or writing about movies, Jen Chaney is ... um ... probably at home, watching a movie.



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