The Social Media Backchannel Has Changed The Way We Watch TV

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Last year at Blogalicious 2010, keynote speaker James Andrews gave a presentation on the explosion of what he calls the “social media backchannel.”  The premise was that traditional media outlets were slowly starting to realize that they were no longer the ones controlling the conversation happening among viewers and that they needed to figure out ways to tap into those conversations to stay in the game.  One example he gave was the Grammy Awards, whose social media he managed (and helped them achieve their best show ratings in ten years).  Those of us social media addicts already know that the best conversations about politics, pop culture and more are happening on Twitter (Mashable does a weekly roundup for the TV shows that garnered the most social media buzz), but it still baffles me that a lot of mainstream media was so slow to catch on.

Most of the top outlets now realize that they need to get with the program so as not be left behind and they are jumping into the waters of the social media backchannel; for example networks include hashtags on the screen to encourage social media participation while the viewers are watching their programs, and create Twitter accounts just for a particular show and even stream the Twitter feeds on their site.

The one that stands out to me the most is BravoTV.  Now I may be partial because I am a huge Bravo fan (there’s nothing more entertaining on television).  From what I can tell, they’ve been on the cutting edge from the get-go; having their show stars blog on, creating viewer contests (a la American Idol voting, but using Twitter in addition to texting), and — my favorite — Watch What Happens L!ve.  The WWHL Show brings on celebs and talent from the Bravo series and allows viewers to ask questions and participate in the show via Twitter. It’s been a huge success from what I can tell (and @BravoAndy is a hoot to follow, by the way).

Anytime an episode of a popular drama or reality or an awards show or political debate is on TV, Twitter is afire.  It’s where the real conversations are happening and the smart TV execs are the ones who are watching, listening, and finding ways for their networks to actively participate in the social media backchannel.