The 2011 Oscar telecast will go down as one of the worst in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. At least that is what many Internet critics argued. Hollywood can no longer afford to dismiss these fans because, as The 24/7 Wall St./ Harris Poll on Social Media and Television shows the balance of power between media producers and consumers has changed. Broadcasters are aware of the shift and are reaching viewers online as well as on TV
More Americans than ever are voicing their opinions about television shows online. Two in five (43%) say they use social media and other websites to opine about programs. Not surprisingly, younger people aged 18-34 were the most comfortable (59%) with this type of engagement. Older users were also well-represented with adults 35-44 (40%), 45-54 (36%) and 55 and older (28%) using the technology. Two in five adults (39%) say they are a Facebook fan or a Twitter follower of a TV show or network.
Interestingly, 33% of respondents vent their feelings about shows after the program airs. Fewer than one in five (18%) engage with their shows beforehand while slightly less (17%) do this while the show is still on. Viewers aged 18 to 34 are less reluctant (31%) to express themselves online while watching a TV program, compared to 5% of adults 55 and older. As more users get used to social networks, viewers will lose their hang-ups about the medium.
The results underscores 2010 findings by Nielsen in the last quarter of 2009 that “simultaneous use of the Internet while watching TV reached three and a half hours a month, up 35% from the previous year. Nearly 60% of TV viewers now use the Internet once a month while also watching TV.” Similar findings have been seen for the past few years.
Social media has caused the biggest revolution in Hollywood since the advent of talking pictures. It has created new stars and revived faltering careers. Teen heart-throb Justin Bieber became one of the most successful singers in the world thanks to his YouTube videos. Charlie Sheen was fired by the producers of his hit sitcom Two and a Half Men because of his erratic behavior. In the pre-social networked world, his career would have been finished. The actor decided to let his freak flag fly to great success. Sheen has more than three million Twitter followers. Then, he lined up a national tour which reportedly is sold out. There are rumors that CBS is trying to woo Sheen back to his old job. Sure, his rants make no sense but the people have spoken.
And that’s the point of social media, it has tilted the balance of power between content creators and content consumers. Television watching is no longer a passive experience. Everyone gets their two cents in the process. And TV producers are aware of the shift and are taking advantage of it.
Their response has been simple: encourage the dialog through branded online content. Forty-four percent of survey respondents who have gone online to post a comment about a show say they have done so on a website or page created by the content provider, such as a TV network’s website or Facebook page. Not surprisingly, more than half of survey respondents say they have done on their own or a friend’s Facebook page, Twitter account, or blog.
Viewers are also increasingly checking out online only content created by TV networks. More than half of users say they are aware of additional material, according to the survey. Even news shows such as 60 Minutes have added online extras. The ABC sitcom Cougar Town also features online stories from the vantage point of a character. Many shows are also offering behind the scenes views to fans.
The ramifications of the new media world order are huge. Viewers are the ones calling the shots now. Soon, they will be able to decide who lives and who dies on their favorite dramas by a click of the mouse. Unfunny sitcoms will be sent into cyber death before their first joke is uttered. Happy news stories will replace depressing ones. This gives a whole new meaning to the word “on-demand,” and the ramifications are frightening.
Imagine if viewers had control over the Oscar telecast. It wouldn’t have lasted through the first commercial break. Of course, the broadcasters wouldn’t care. As long as viewers participate, it doesn’t matter how the story ends.
Methodology: This 24/7 Wall Street/Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States from March 11-15, 2011
among 2,526 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the general population on key variables including age by sex, race, region, education, and household income.