How Twitter Changed Television (2010)


It paved the way to immediate news, direct access, and a glimpse behind the entertainment curtain

In 2009, a funny thing happened: Twitter exploded on the Internet. Blame it on the 2008 Presidential election or MySpace/Facebook burnout. But 2009 was the year that television was hit over the head by social media in the form of one little word: tweet. (For more analysis of how Twitter boomed in 2009, see the article “How Twitter Changed Everything in 2009 – the A.T. (After Twitter) Era Begins”)

From celebrities to politicians to the average coach potato, Twitter became a phenomenon that equalized the playing field on the Internet. Not constrained by the usual gatekeeper methods employed by other social networks limiting interaction to only those who are “friended” or permitted into one’s internet domain, Twitter invited anyone and everyone to join in the world wide web conversation.

While tentative at first, those who dipped their toe into the Twitter world were soon addicted. It began dominating the mainstream as a way of finding out what was happening in the world. News and celebrity scandals broke faster on Twitter than anywhere else. In the era where information is power, it was the drug of choice for news hounds and celeb internet-junkies. It was literally where the news was happening.

For entertainment bloggers, it became a world unto itself. Suddenly it was not just entertainment magazines, such as TV Guide, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter that were posting immediate updates. PR firms, publicists, online TV bloggers jumped in to corner a piece of the unfolding Twitter landscape. Then TV producers, showrunners, writers and a whole array of entertainment talent ranging from actors, makeup artists, wardrobe personnel, and composers were suddenly tweeting insider tidbits about the films and television shows they worked on. For fans and entertainment bloggers alike, it was heaven.

The online interaction free of typical boundaries was unprecedented. If you had a quick question for your favorite actor or wanted to find out who designed the dress they wore in the most recent episode, the information was at your fingertips. It was not only direct access, it was immediate and virtually unfiltered. It also was free. No longer did studios and networks have to buy precious advertising space in print media, such as newspapers and magazines, nor ad spots on television, all they needed was to get a buzz going about their film or TV show and the viral campaign took off like a firestorm.

For shows like “Glee,” “Vampire Diaries,” “Castle,” “Modern Family,” and “Stargate Universe” nearly all the actors were suddenly on Twitter posting updates and churning the fans into a frenzy for more information about the shows and everyone involved with them. “Vampire Diaries” raised the bar by having nearly weekly tweet-a-thons where producers and writers would live-tweet during the show to get the fans more excited and involved. Soon other shows were jumping on board and exclusive opportunities to talk to the producers, writers and actors made Twitter a hot spot and the place to be.

The next thing you knew, TV bloggers were soliciting questions from the fans before interviews and then it escalated to live-tweets during press calls with the talent. The ability to be plugged into which ever television show you desired was right there. Twitter had opened the doors to communication and raised the veil on what was going on.

In addition, no longer did fans have to visit multiple fans sites each day, they could simply “follow” their favorite celebrities and all the information about the celeb’s upcoming appearances, cause-de-jeur, daily routines, and favorite restaurants was posted right into the person’s Twitter-feed.

As I tried to convince friends and family to join Twitter and see how the Internet revolution had expanded into social media, I kept describing it as if Twitter were your own personal newspaper. Each person decides how to customize the information they receive and that is all they see. If you are a sports fiend, then just “follow” all the sports reporting sites, bloggers and sports figures. If you are a politico, then “follow” all the political sites and politicians. And if you love entertainment, then it was easy for everyone who was anyone in Hollywood to suddenly be blogging about his or her work. It was the ultimate promotion machine.

The ability to selectively choose which information sources to get updates from made Twitter the Internet world’s “newspaper.” For an entertainment writer such as myself, I found I could “follow” hundreds of other columnists, writers, bloggers, entertainment sources, and direct talent. To find out if a television show had been picked up or canceled, all I had to do was read my Twitter-feed. Before Variety could put its spin on a story, I would have received a tweet from someone I was following that “broke” the news hours before.

The instantaneousness of it all was not only addictive, it was invaluable. It allowed entertainment commentators to pick and choose stories they needed to break and not have to rely on an emailed press release or competing site to break the story ahead of them. It also gave one a sense of what was “hot” in the entertainment world. I could tell by reviewing my Twitter-feed what actors, television shows and entertainment topics were the subjects everyone was discussing and it allowed me to tailor my articles to more current and timely television issues.

So, on a personal level, Twitter made access to people and information more immediate. It also made it easier for publicists, studios and showrunners to get immediate feedback on the success of a particular show or to assess the popularity of a certain actor or storyline. The communication door opened both ways. Like DVR’s have made Nielsen somewhat obsolete, Twitter has made print media and even the news obsolete. By the time an article can be published in a newspaper or a breaking story run on the nightly news, Twitter has announced it hours before – and in some cases, days and weeks ahead.

With that kind of open and immediate access, the power of Twitter is unparalleled. For every celebrity abandoning Twitter because of the pressure and scrutiny it brings into their lives, a dozen more are joining Twitter to have more direct access to their fans, to promote their shows and products and to join in on what is happening in the world.

As aptly described in the article: “10 Reasons Every TV Exec Needs to Start Tweeting”, Twitter is a resource that more and more television executives should be exploiting. If they are not, then they are failing to use the most influential tool on the Internet today — for Twitter is an invitation to promote oneself, one’s work or even a product. In fact, it is the one type of advertising that consumers are embracing and eagerly encouraging.

Thus, it is time to jump into the 21st century and find out what everyone is talking about. This is your chance to pull back the curtain and see if there is an all powerful Oz pulling the levers or if it all is just as magical as it seems. Twitter has changed how we communicate and its influence only continues to grow.


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