Television and social networks, the perfect duo

Reading this will take you: 6 minutes

Television consumption has changed dramatically since the arrival of social networks, and the screen of our mobile phone has become even more of a protagonist than that of the television set. In order to be a 2.0 viewer you need to follow trending topics and hashtags and participate in the online social conversation in which the rest of the public is involved. Is social television already here?

“They sung so well! I’m going to share the video on Twitter. Look, it’s already had loads of plays. Have other people thought the same thing? Yes, it’s a trending topic!”, exclaims someone. “Would you leave your mobile alone for once, we’re watching the telly!”, replies the other. This conversation has been repeated in the majority of households since ten years or so ago, when the social network boom really began. Now it is at its most pivotal moment, and the little bird app has turned into a second television screen. This is proven by phenomena such as the latest Operación Triunfo (equivalent to X-Factor), which points to the fact that our conversion into digital spectators has barely begun.

According to the report Tú emite que yo comento by Havas Media Group and Salvetti & Lombart, 74% of Spaniards between 13 and 45 years old use their smartphone or other devices whilst watching the television. It is the channels themselves who motivate viewers to tweet, and they show in the text in the top corner of the screen the current hashtag.

With these tags, public conversations around the various programmes, debates and films that are being shown are created. You no longer need to meet up with friends to discuss the latest Champions League match, you can do it from the sofa using your mobile phone. “For many people, Twitter is like a huge pub bar where you can talk to people around the world about the content that you are watching in real time “, highlights Nuria Cano, head of the editorial team of Kantar Media.

This is what is defined as social television: combining the use of social networks and mobile apps whilst you are watching TV. It is a tendency that talk shows, game shows, reality TV programmes, satire programmes, series and talent shows are signing up to in order to increase their audience and become the subject matter of the moment.

How to be a national trend for three months

The most recent example in Spain is Operación Triunfo, a format that was scrapped six years ago for lack of interest from the audience, and which returned in October 2017 looking for a second spring. Complete success. Lluís Alsina, manager of digital development at Gestmusic for Operación Triunfo, explains it: “We designed a strategy by looking for which channels young people were on, and we were left with Twitter, YouTube and Instagram”.

With this strategy they managed to attract people of all ages thanks to two types of content: editorials created by the newsroom and content generated by the contestants themselves. “For the first time, the participants in a reality show had smartphones and could share their day-to-day lives with the audience on Instagram”, he indicates. This new approach made them connect more with television viewers.

The development of a mobile app to bring together all the content and vote for competitors, a daily hashtag to follow news and the jump to YouTube with a 24 hour channel did the rest. The result: 30 million visits to the app, more than 375 million views on YouTube and 300,000 followers on Instagram.

Alsina describes the technical miracle that would make all this possible: “During the show to elect Spain’s representative at Eurovision, there were 900,000 votes in ten minutes. Each one requires ten requests to the app internally: at the most intense moment we have two million requests at the same time. We multiplied the number of servers and managed an enormous technical feat”.

Television channels tend to be reticent about putting up content outside their own platforms, but the total availability of content on YouTube made Operación Triunfo a national trending topic throughout its emission. “Twitter said it: no brand has managed to be the most talked-about topic in a country for three months”, says Alsina proudly.

Who wins with this success? “The format and all the contestants “, believes Alsina. And Amaia Romero, obviously. What is more, digital audiences correlate with television ones. According to data provided by the Barlovento Comunicación consultancy, so far this year the programmes with the highest average audience figures have been Operación Triunfo, MasterChef Junior, El Objetivo de Ana Pastor, Salvados, La Sexta Noche, Al Rojo Vivo… These are the same that appear every day on the Twitter trending bar, and which have the most followers on this network. Salvados stands out with 750,000; MasterChef has 715,000; and Al Rojo Vivo has garnered more than 450,000 followers.

The 2.0 viewer’s guide

What do you miss if you’re not on Twitter whilst watching your favourite programme? “The whole public conversation that is being generated and the extra information that the programmes provide, which is something that Operación Triunfo does a lot”, explains Ana Fernández, specialist in social networks, who adds: “At the end of the day, TV is entertainment and social networks bring more fun to it. There are even lots of people who prefer the conversations on Twitter about First Dates to the programme itself”. The way in which we consume television has already changed, and this is what you need to know if you also want to be a digital viewer.

Keep an eye on the screen and the TimeLine. Many programmes show the hashtag with which you can tag your comments in the top corner of the screen. With this, the whole conversation is assembled and the viewer can be an active participant in the social and political debate on programmes like Salvados, Al Rojo Vivo and Equipo de Investigación. “Paramount Channel was a pioneer in incorporating it, and one of the first programmes to start modifying it daily was Zapeando”, explains Fernández. The hashtag is changed because Twitter’s algorithm, once a term has already been a trending topic, penalises it and makes it need twice as much activity to become a trend again.

Sit famous people on your sofa. Everyone is on social media and everyone has something to say, even the people who you see on your television set. “Social networks enable the viewer to interact in a new way with screen stars. 30 years ago you could only see your favourite actor or singer on the telly or in magazines; now you can follow them, mention them and even talk to them”, says Alsina. The same is true of journalists: Jordi Évole boasts almost 3.5 million followers on Twitter and Ana Pastor has 2 million.

Influence what you want to see. Viewers have the word and their discussion on social networks gradually drips through to the television. The manager of digital development at Gestmusic explains it using the example of Operación Triunfo: “We were attentive to what viewers were asking for on social networks, and later we reflected it on the programme”. As the head of Kantar Media highlights: “Conversations on social media platforms make it possible to obtain qualitative information about the television, and they are a very important source of data which could, among other things, optimise the pace of a programme, change the dynamic of a competition and the plot of a series”.

Choose how the series you’re hooked on ends. Televisión Española with Si fueras tú and Netflix with Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale are two examples of interactive series in which the viewer can make decisions that determine the direction of the story and even how it ends. The case of Sense 8 also stands out, a Netflix series whose cancellation after its second season caused a huge commotion among its fans. The followers managed to get a closing chapter made after insisting until they were blue in the face via all the platform’s social networks.

Download your favourite programme’s app. As well as official accounts on social media, programmes are increasingly offering their own apps with extra content. The cooking recipes from MasterChef, the historical details of El Ministerio del Tiempo and the already mentioned voting system for Operación Triunfo all act as digital incentives to get viewers hooked.

Never let your charger leave your side! You don’t want to end up with a flat battery when that tweet that would surely go viral occurs to you.

The Internet has broken down communication barriers between people, and it is also breaking down those of the television. However, there is still some way to go. “Social networks are opening the doors to the democratisation of public opinion on what happens on telly, but this hasn’t evolved so much as to have become social television”, is Fernández’ opinion. For Cano: “TV channels are looking for this kind of qualitative information to help them make decisions. The power that viewers can have over the content that they view on the television is real and direct via Twitter”.

Perhaps we still have a few years to wait before the conversation at the beginning changes: “They sung so well! I’m going to share the video on Twitter”; “Great, I’ll retweet you!”.

By Patricia Ruiz Guevara

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