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Social networking sites’ foray into TV shows will change our viewing habits

When I’m at home watching TV I have finally begun to resist the urge to pick up my laptop or iPhone to surf the internet to see if anyone else is tweeting or facebooking about the TV show I’m watching.

This is typical Attention Disorder type behaviour which seems to be becoming so common that the main broadcasters BBC and ITV are beginning embracing the idea of social TV.

People on mass are communally discussing TV shows online as they are watching them — this adds an extra edge to TV viewing that the main broadcaster cannot possibly ignore any longer.

If you had a look at twitter a few weeks ago during the penultimate episode of American TV show Lost as it was being shown simultaneously both in the US and UK — you would have seen the scale of messages from people sharing their thoughts and fears as the confusing series unfolded.

@timtom202 #lost = best show ever! So sad it ended :( #lostfinale

@fanboytristan Half an hour in and I'm feeling tired. Weak.#lostfinale

It was such a big event that the conversation was trending globally on twitter using hashtags like #lostfinale — meaning that it was one of the most tweeted subjects during the time the show was being shown. Social media mainly offered a channel for fans of the show to share their excitement around a show in real time with other like minded people. And remember this all happened at 5am UK time.

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Similarly during this year’s Eurovision contest, usually a night of crazy parties across Europe this was being matched simultaneously socially online through Twitter and Facebook. At the same time as their parties going on people across Europe where sharing their thoughts on the Eurovision using twitter and having fun with the competition — mainly arguing on who they think should win.

@DYoshii Germany, Belgium, Iceland, Greece (it was awful but catchy) and France. Nom! #Eurovision #top5

@kathryn_i That was one |of the highlights of the#Eurovision show. That flash-mob thing just put a MASSIVE smile on your face.

The BBC is one of the first broadcasters to take full advantage of the crowd-sourcing aspects of social TV with a recent upgrade to its BBC iplayer service which enables users to share and comment on their shows through Facebook and Twitter. This means that we will be able to share a link to the TV show we are watching with our friends and so encourage them to watch it with us at the same time — and so creating real time social clusters around TV content. BBC wishes to extend this further later in |the year by incorporating Windows live Messenger into its Iplayer platform, meaning that |you can chat in real time with friends at the same time as watching a TV show — building more immediate functionality around the conversation.

ITV is quickly following suit having seen the potential of the internet for their TV programmes a few years ago when a clip from Britain’s Got Talent shared on Youtube featuring Susan Boyle became such an internet phenomenon that she appeared on shows like Oprah Winfrey weeks after the first broadcast. The World Cup is a key opportunity for ITV to experiment with social sharing and so they are launching ITV Live. This will enable users to interact using a chat facility as they watch live streaming of the World Cup games on the ITV website. Channel 5 has also got plans to move into this area — with the relaunch of their five on demand service available on its website later in the year.

What does this mean for Northern Ireland businesses? With a shift of users to a multi-media mix for their entertainment the attention of the wider consumer base is going to become harder to reach with broadcast messaging.

It’s important businesses and agencies are aware of the need to engage their audience as broadcasters have already realised there is more potential to use audience base to reach new audiences. Social media brands like Facebook and Twitter are only going to become a more integrated part of the communications mix as these investments by the traditional players highlight.

Ruairi Mc Nally is media director with BlueCube Interactive