Social media is playing an ever-bigger role in advertising of media products in general but it seems to be an integral part of the marketing strategy for television shows, much more so than for films (although, still important). Live tweeting seems to have become a must for people involved with most primetime shows, with the networks themselves including a hashtag in a corner of the screen to make sure everyone is using the same hashtag and thus increase the chances of the show trending and with it, increasing their promotional reach.
Okay. We mostly understand why actors/producers/show creators/etc have started using Twitter for promotional purposes but my question here is how is this changing television? Or, more specifically, how is it changing it for the better?
How is reading direct responses to the programming affecting its creators? Well, let’s be honest, it probably isn’t. Show runners are not likely to change their grand plan for their series just because some fans would prefer a different ending. And that’s not what storytelling is about anyway. But what I have noticed is little nods to fans in certain TV episodes. Say, they will call a character by a nickname created for them by the fans. Or, they will emphasise a character’s certain qualities that the fans themselves keep pointing out (without changing the actual story, that is). Sometimes they even indirectly answer fans’ frequently asked questions. In this way, fans are more enticed to continue not only watching the programming but also comment on it and share their thoughts with others. This is marketing at its finest and most sophisticated. And it is beautiful.
In terms of how this is changing television: It seems that it is increasingly more important for a show to have a dedicated fanbase than a large one. Of course, television networks are still very much concerned with numbers, as are advertisers. But nowadays, having fans of the show who constantly create online debates and discussions in relation to the show is a big asset. Take for example, BBC America’s Orphan Black. The show has created a lot of online buzz and even though many might not be actively watching it or even know the storyline, the debates around it are endless. Because of this, Orphan Black has now begun production for its third season, yet its ratings have never passed the 1 million mark for any of the episodes! With OB, it seems that people recognise it for its high quality and most importantly, continue writing about it and bringing others in on the discussion.
Shows like Orphan Black give me hope for the future of television. Although the number of viewers will always be the prime concern for some shows and some networks, this to me seems to be the first step in a more audience-controlled television, where quality (of the television programme) does indeed trump quantity (number of viewers). I believe social media will continue to play a big part in this.