Television viewership has skyrocketed in recent years. It might seem surprising, but on-demand availability and time-shifted programming (such as ‘+1’ channels), as well as the range of viewing platforms now available has meant that the public can now fit viewing into their schedule better than ever before. On top of this, television is no longer seen as the ‘low art’ it once was; film’s black-sheep baby cousin has grown up and started garnering the attention it deserves.
Shows like Game of Thrones are receiving Hollywood-sized budgets, and others such as Breaking Bad are gaining the kind of universal critical acclaim once reserved for great literature or theatre, and only the greatest of film (see also this article, comparing the show to the fabled Great American Novel.)
Beyond this, the way we talk about television has changed too; it is now impossible to go on Twitter without risking seeing spoilers for your favourite shows. I caught up with the infamous (and controversial) Game of Thrones episode featuring The Red Wedding about three days after it first aired and in that time I had to enter into complete social media lockdown, lest I accidentally stumbled upon a list of who had died…. [SPOILER ALERT] Turned out it was pretty much everyone, so it was almost a waste of time, but that’s beside the point. Twitter has now become the first point of contact for reactions, discussions, news questions, so much so that shows are being rated not by how many views they receive (incredibly difficult to measure in the age of aforementioned technological advances) but by how much Twitter buzz they generate.
In fact, nowadays it is arguable that you cannot properly engage with television without having a Twitter account. Even some of my more tweet-phobic friends immediately search for trending reactions to certain televisual events: from the last few months the finales of Breaking Bad, Broadchurch and The X Factor spring to mind. Sure, TV events will no doubt receive press coverage, generate Facebook statuses, inspire blog posts, but for immediate, concise reaction and discussion, nobody does it better than Twitter.
The industry is savvy to this fact as well; TV Line founder and CEO Michael Ausiello has nearly 20,000 tweets to his name and over a million followers. Twitter is allowing audiences to engage with television in a way only previously dreamed of. Watching a show is no longer the final step of the experience, we are implored to involve ourselves further in the world of the episode by becoming immersed in the forum surrounding it, and it’s not even a big commitment, you don’t have to have tons of time or a burning passion, just fire off those speedy 140 characters with the right hashtag at the end, read your ‘Trending’ page and you’re done. Suddenly, since Twitter established itself, television viewing has become a richer experience, more social than ever before; where it used to bring the members of your household together, it now brings you together with every other fan of your favourite show who has a Twitter account… Which every true television fan now does.