You may have noticed since as early as last year your favorite primetime shows started to display a small watermark in the corner. In fact, more and more television shows have started to include Twitter hashtags on display in the bottom corner of the screen.
With DVR, TiVo and online streaming options, securing live viewership is harder than ever. Twitter hashtags act as a invitation to join a live conversation happening in real time while the show is airing. However, for some viewers, it’s more about joining the digital conversation than making time to watch a show live.
“It doesn’t make me watch more TV,” said BYU student Caroline Slater. “It makes me get on Twitter.”
In the Twitter world, hashtags act as a measure of “buzz,” with the most used hashtags “trending” in a region or nationwide.
“We’ve noticed shows like “Glee” and “Idol” trend while the show is on, but fans often use different hashtags (like #ItsAGleekThing or simply #Glee),” said Fox marketing president Joe Earley in an interview with TV Guide. “We thought if we provided the official hashtags, then more posts would aggregate.”
While Fox has taken the lead in merging TV and online social media with Twitter hashtags, plenty of others including ABC and Comedy Central have used similar tactics. The shift makes sense. A recent survey conducted by Yahoo and Nielson discovered that 86 percent of mobile phone owners, and a massive 92 percent of 13-24 year olds, use their phones while watching TV. Forty percent are browsing or updating social networking sites on their phones, with another 53 percent doing the same using a personal computer.
Twitter claims after decades of debate, it has been determined what viewers truly want is “a synchronous interactive experience” when watching TV. This is facilitated by the online conversation between viewers and even the hosts of shows themselves. Oftentimes a live show will pull tweets from a thread about the show and put it on the air.
“People do it so that they can be on CNN or Fox or C-SPAN,” Slater said. “It gives people a chance to be heard.”