TV; Dead? Old White Man says no

There is always talk that television may be a dying medium. The Internet regularly takes a significant portion of what used to be the regular television audience, and this constant decline in audience numbers provokes fears of the stability of the medium.

I like to think, however, television is developing alongside the social media phenomenon. Particularly in the case of twitter, which is constantly incorporated into a television show’s broadcasting as a way of interacting with its audience. Whoever is sitting up there controlling the shots understands; viewers no longer want to be passive, they want to be involved, they want to see their tweet at the bottom of the screen and tell their friends; they want to participate and feel included.

Queue example: Community. At one point in the show, character Troy decides to live with fellow character Pierce, an often racist and politically incorrect older man. During this time, Troy creates a twitter account, Old White Man Says, on which he updates his fellow community college goers on the questionable things Pierce comes up with. As the episodes featuring this twitter account went to air, the producers of the show (or perhaps a viewer?) simultaneously updated a twitter account of their own creation. Viewers could follow the account, be updated with the tweets, and respond and encourage the characters of the show.

In the case of Community, all the characters have twitter accounts to encourage further interaction. These include accounts for Jeff Winger, Britta Perry, and Troy Barnes. Tweets between the accounts are common, connecting them further and implying the tweets are from the actual characters themselves.

The fact that the characters are fictional, in this instance, becomes irrelevant; this is a new common feature of popular television shows that encourages audience engagement almost similar to that of low level fandom. Characters begin to have a ‘real-world’ identity that brings them out from the screen and turns them into something more; something relatable, something more ‘real’. Fictional twitter accounts like these also give viewers further insights into the characters they love so much, and can be created by viewers themselves, creating an integrated and connected fan base community solely held together by the fan themselves, based on a common interest in a particular character or television show.

It is clear television is changing in both its content and marketing. Content is becoming more bold, challenging current social and cultural issues with quality writing and acting. Marketing is becoming more user orientated; ‘fake’ twitter accounts of the characters themselves are created to give a sense of depth and reality; social media is utilised to target specific demographics, primarily on Facebook and Twitter, as a cheap and effective method of advertising that encourages users to engage with a television show beyond just watching it and leaving it there. Television itself has become interactive and multi-platform, going beyond a simple experience of ‘watching.’ However, as it is so easily transformed, it is difficult to point to where it will/can go next.


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