Social media and #Spooks: Should fictional TV characters use Twitter?


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If you are not in the UK you may not know of the TV series Spooks. It is popular and award-winning BBC drama series following the work of a group of MI5 spies. It has just returned for its 9th season and many people are tuning in every Monday to see the adventures of Lucas North, Sir Harry Pearce and others. And, each Monday Twitter is flooded with discussions as people watch the show - the hashtag #Spooks usually trending globally during each episode. We’ve written before about how social media can complement television, and the discussions on Twitter range from people commenting on the characters on what is happening in the plot through to discussions about the actors, sets and other things.

This year, Spooks are trying something different. The main characters are all on Twitter. And they are discussing thing with each other and with other Twitter users. You can find most of them in the following list from Sir Harry Pearce (or @SirHJPearce as he is known): My Colleagues and Others.

It is unclear if these are ‘official’ accounts for the characters (and I would love to find out either way if anybody knows) but the experiment raises an interesting question for me. Notably - should fictional characters in a television series tweet whilst the series is being shown. Social media is a great complement to television, but the danger with having characters tweeting is that they take you out of the fictional construct you are enjoying and, potentially, burst the bubble that has been created on the screens.

For example, at a particularly tense moment in this evening’s episode where new recruit Beth was seemingly betraying her colleagues I tweeted:

I think we all want some answers from @Beth_MI5 #spooks

As I was tweeting this, Beth was on my screens rushing through the streets of London, but she also found time to respond to me within minutes:

@mattrhodes mmmm not yet

And I wasn’t the only one to get responses. Beth was busy betraying her colleagues on screen and also engaging on Twitter at the same time. And this is where I think this use of Twitter starts to fall down. I am a huge fan of experimenting in social media, but also a huge fan of Spooks. I enjoy an hour a week of tense drama - losing myself to the plot I see unfolding on my television screen and the characters who are part of it. For me, this use of Twitter bursts that bubble.

I appreciate that I may be alone in this view, that others may enjoy the conversations on Twitter whilst they are also enjoying the action on their television screens. But for me it begins to break the fictional bubble that I have been enjoying - until I see the characters using Twitter on the screens as they respond to me, of course…

What’s your favourite YouTube statistic?


YouTube logo
Image by Rego - via Flickr

I’m not sure what my favourite statistic is about YouTube. It could be, as we learnt today, that two billion videos are viewed every day. Or maybe it is the fact that this means that every minute we collectively upload 24 hours worth of video content to the site. Or that these videos mean that every 60 days more content is created on YouTube than has been aired in 60 years of programming on the main three US TV networks. Or maybe it’s the fact that 3 million people are sharing videos automatically through other social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and that each time a video is shared seven new people see it.

All of these statistics tell us one thing clearly. In the five years since YouTube launched we have all become used to creating, sharing, viewing, commenting on and rating videos online. Video is a great way of conveying information, ideas and emotions and can be a very engaging medium. It can be the best way off  expressing a complex idea and helps effective engagement, establishing a connection between the people on the video and the people viewing it. Production quality matters less than content and passion. And perhaps of most importance is the ability to share the content.

Video is one of the most versatile of all social media tools and enhances any online community. And with the increased penetration of handheld cameras that will easily upload content online we will see even more content created.

If these statistics are impressive (and they are) they will only get more so. As the video below shows, a lot has happened in the first five years of YouTube. The next five years promise to be just as exciting. And I suspect my favourite statistic is yet to come.

YouTube is five - let’s look at the anthropology


Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

YouTube is five. It was on April 23rd 2005 that the first video was posted on YouTube. Now it has become a ubiquitous social media tool allowing people to share videos with each other, to comment on them and to sort and rate videos they enjoy. But why would people upload videos in the first place and what sort of videos do they upload. As YouTube turns five it is worth reexamining the nature of YouTube videos and the anthropology that is going on here.

Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University and head of the Digital Ethnography Working Group, presents a great view of YouTube from an anthropological perspective. From exploring the fact that more content has been added to YouTube in the past six months than in a lifetime of network TV in the US, through a catagorisation of YouTube videos, this is a really informative video. It’s long (just shy of an hour) but I think time spent watching this is time well spent. Michael is a captivating speaker and manages to express things we think we know in different ways. From social media to online communities and social networks; you’ll learn something new and understand better why people are motivated to take part and contribute online.

How online communities are changing the way we watch television


The End Of Telly-
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Earlier this year we posted a series of examples of online communities in the TV industry. We looked at the way ‘old’ and ‘new’ media combine, how television broadcasters and production companies are working with online media. The examples we chose were all of ways in which online communities can be used to provide an additional set of experiences for a viewer, often after a programme has aired. From Channel Four’s Sexperience online community which supported the Sex Education Show to HGTV‘s  Rate My Space online community for people to share home improvement photos and tips.

These communities all have one thing in common - they provided an additional set of experiences for a viewer that enhance or extend their experience with the programme. They are for people who enjoy the programme and who want to engage more or find out more.

Things have changed in just a few months - the latest use of online communities for TV programmes is very different. They are now being used to add a social dimension to the actual viewing experience. Using online community tools to enhance a viewer’s experience while they are watching the actual show. We’ve written before about how two live shows in the UK have been experimenting with this use of social media tools: Live TV and real-time chat: X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. But a new example from the UK shows how this use of online communities to enhance TV programmes is not restricted to live programmes.

Come Dine with Me is a popular cooking competition show on Channel Four in the UK. The concept is simple but addictive: four contestants host a dinner party for the other contestants on four subsequent evenings. Each host is rated by the other contestants and the person with the highest score wins. It’s a show that has always attracted a lot of discussions online as a quick Twitter search shows. Channel Four has now capitalised on this by hosting its own discussions on its site whilst the show is on air.

The Come Dine With Me ‘Play Along’ community shows how you can harness the conversations that are going on already and also enhance the viewer experience. The discussions in Twitter had always been of three kinds:

  1. People giving their own ratings of what is happening on the show - saying the score they would have given for a particular dinner party
  2. People commenting on the food or the ambiance at the parties
  3. People talking about the contestants - who they like and why, and who they are less keen on

The Channel Four online community now allows people to do this in real time and on their site whilst the show is on air. They allow you to score each contestant against a set of criteria (and see the average score given by your fellow community members). They allow you to chat about what’s happening on screen and the host of the chat prompts you to discuss what is happening right now.

This is a great example of online communities really adding value to a viewers experiences in three ways:

  1. They allow you to interact with other viewers who are sharing the same experience and who are interested in the same things
  2. They are add a new dimension to the programme - letting you take part in the contest to
  3. They have the benefit of being hosted by the same people who are broadcasting (or producing) the programme - you feel like you have inside access to information

The way we watch television is changing. Online communities are changing it. They add a new, social dimension to actual viewing experience. In time more and more programmes will be accompanied by online discussions and debates in this way. It will become the norm for many people to sit in front of two screens rather than just one.

Live TV and real-time chat: X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing


The End Of Telly-
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Watching TV is almost always a social experience.  We talk to the people in the room with us. We talk to our friends on the phone, by instant messenger or on Facebook. We talk to people with similar interests in forums and chat rooms. Some of us even just shout at the TV on our own. However we do it, TV often makes us want to talk, share opinions and express ourselves. And some TV programmes make us want to do this more than others.

This week in the UK we saw one TV programme that drove many of us to chat in online communities and social media during the show. Thursday’s Question Time on the BBC featured the leader of the British National Party, saw a record number of viewers and reportedly 12.5 Tweets every second about what people were watching on their screens. Tonight we have two shows which typically attract and a much greater volume of discussions in chat rooms, forums and social media: the X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing.

The discussions and chat that accompanied these shows have been on other sites and using other tools. Tonight, for the first time, both shows have incorporated chat and social media functions into their own sites. This is a significant step for TV broadcasting in the UK. Consumer patterns have changed. We no longer watch a programme with friends and relatives and then discuss it with others the next day or read reviews in newspapers. We discuss and share our opinions in real-time through social media. The discussions and chats that accompany the show are, for the viewers, an integral part of the experience. By integrating chat and social functions into their sites, the broadcasters are hoping to recapture the viewers’ attention and give them the full experience they want.

Strictly Social

Of the two shows, the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing offers a richer experience. Their Strictly Social site allows you to watch the show via BBC iPlayer and chat in real time with viewers alongside the screen. If you don’t want to join the discussions (as many people won’t), you can express your opinions by ‘reacting’ - clicking on ‘wow’, ‘boo’ or ‘gasp’ and seeing the word gain more prominence on screen. You can also guess what votes the judges will give the acts and vote in polls.

The Strictly Social site is clearly designed to appeal to a wide range of Strictly Come Dancing viewers. Both to provide a space for those who want to chat during the live show to do this alongside the show itself. And also to provide tools for other viewers to get engaged. It will be interesting to see how popular these other tools are and how many people use the site this week and in coming weeks. There is much talk that this is the future for the BBC’s website - providing a richer experience for the viewer by combining activities and tools they can use online during the show. The Strictly Social site could be the start of a shift in the BBC’s integration of broadcast and social medias.

X Factor Chat

The X Factor has a simpler site with ITV’s X Factor Chat. The chat site does not sit alongside an online broadcast of the show itself and instead relies on people sitting in front of a TV with their computer. Something we know many people do anyway. On the site, viewers can chat about what they are seeing and this chat is punctuated with polls, controlled by the moderator.

The site replicates more closely the experience viewers would have using tools on other sites. A real-time chat function that allows people to discuss and debate what they see on screen. The difference is that being on the ITV site gives this chat more credence. The role of the moderator should be critical here - being the official online host of the X Factor and letting the viewers and chatters feel that they are getting exclusive access and exclusive discussions.

Overall it will be interesting to see which format is most successful for the broadcasters. Which manages to engage people and, perhaps most critically, keep them viewing the show throughout the show this week, next week and for the rest of their respective runs. TV viewers have always been social creatures. For many this has involved the use of social media, online communities and other tools. Tonight the BBC and ITV caught up with them.