Twitter, Time Shifting, Technology & Television
Twitter, Time Shifting, Technology & Television
Twitter, Time Shifting, Technology & Television

Are you a “Time Shifter”? No, I am not asking you if you have the ability to slip in and out of the time space continuum at will. I am asking if you are among the millions of people who record your favorite television shows via Tivo or some other DVR device so you can watch them when it’s convenient for you?

An article posted by the AP back in August states, “Sixty-two percent of viewers across the country interviewed in a poll conducted for the nation’s largest cable company, Comcast Corp., said they have used time-shifting technology. Six in 10 people said they owned a digital video recorder.”

They follow that up later in the article by saying “The survey found that 60 percent of viewers report time-shifting more than they did a year ago. Going back three years, 84 percent said they are doing it more often — more than half of the people saying they use it, ‘significantly more.'”

This has got to be upsetting to advertisers who’s dollars are spent on ads that get skipped and executives who have lost control (not the first due to innovations in technology) of their audience. Interestingly enough, the popularity and increasing mainstream use of social media just might be the solution television networks are looking for to re-capture eyeballs when shows air.

Let’s take Twitter for example. It played its part in making the 2011 Grammy Awards the highest rated in a decade. Artists that are some of the most frequently mentioned on Twitter, such as Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, attracted tons of social media savvy fans during the show. Critiques of each performance and congratulatory tweets posted in real-time during the event. The compounding effect of all of those tweets attracted others who were not watching, but wanted to join the conversation. Had these viewers waited until later and watched the show via their DVR then they would have missed out on the communal experience that sites like Twitter and Facebook provide.

Are You Seeing What I’m Seeing?
Now let’s go beyond huge televised events like the Grammys, Superbowl or the Olympics. TV networks would love to harness this same effect to draw viewers to their regular weekly scheduled programming. Twitter is still the most common place for real-time discussions happening during the show as well as the “water cooler” discussions that happens after each episode airs. Services such as,, and the relatively new Into_Now mobile app are trying to piggy back on Twitter discussions by providing even more context and interaction around your favorite shows. In general, each provides its own way for viewers to “check in” and say they are watching a particular show. On Monday when I tuned in to watch Chuck on NBC, I could quickly tell others on Twitter and Facebook what I was watching via GetGlue‘s iPhone app.

When check ins are shared with your networks two things happen. First, they remind those who are familiar with the show to tune in so they can be a part of the greater social discussion happening in real-time. I can quickly see which of my friends are also watching Chuck or participate in discussions with other fans of the show. The second thing that happens is each check in provides a link to a description about the show, what time it airs, etc. This creates a discovery point for folks who may never have heard about Chuck or any of the other shows I may tell my network I am watching. Although I could certainly check in while watching my favorite shows on my DVR (which I do not actually own), I would be “late to the party” and miss out on the social discussions that peak during the regular air time.

Gimme the (Digital) Goods!
In an effort to further incentivise viewers to tune in during regular show times they are partnering with services like GetGlue to reward them with digital goods. Being an avid Discovery channel fan, I checked in during this season’s first episode of MythBusters. I was rewarded a special digital “sticker” that proved I watched the premiere when it aired the first time on TV. I have to admit, even though these “stickers” have no real value, it is quite fun to receive these digital badges of fandom. GetGlue even mails you physical versions of stickers you have earned to slap on your laptop. MythBusters Premier Sticker on GetGlue

Over the last year I have seen a number of networks get behind what GetGlue and others in the space are doing. Shows from MTV, HBO, Discovery Channel and others are usually represented on the “Limited Time” sticker page on GetGlue. Grammy Awards Sticker on Get Glue

What’s Next?
This is only the start of how networks are using social media to draw viewers back to regularly scheduled programs. This week the New York Times posted an article on the subject. The article mentions numerous ways that the “powers that be” are trying to make television viewing more social. The real-time web and increasing usage of devices like smart phones and tablets all create a more social experience for audiences that was not available only a couple years ago. From the article:

“We know people are multitasking while they’re watching TV,” said Albert Cheng, the executive vice president for digital media for the Disney/ABC Television Group, which oversees ABC. “The question is, how do we tap into that and create a whole different consumer experience?”

The same approach can be, and is frequently, used at a much smaller scale. The real-time social web has already been a part of helping conferences, webinars, and live streaming concerts garner more attention when they are happening. Although today’s technology makes it easy for content providers to record and share content after it’s happened, think about how can you take advantage of social media to attract an audience when your show/event is taking place? The increased social activity during the broadcast of such content can often amplify the desired effect of attracting attention to the on demand version of the content afterwards.

I shared some specific tips and ideas on a previous post here. I look forward to your thoughts in the comments.

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About the Author

Adam Helweh
Adam is CEO of Secret Sushi Creative Inc, a strategic design, digital and social media marketing agency. He specializes in the convergence of design and technology to provide businesses with more intelligent and interactive ways to connect with customers and grow. His clients have included Edelman, Broadcom, Stanford Federal Credit Union, the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Bunchball and others. He's also the co-host of the "SoLoMo Show", a weekly digital marketing podcast, and he has shared the stage with professionals from companies including Facebook, Virgin Airlines, Paypal, Dell and 24 Hour Fitness.
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  • Great article. This is a topic that I am extremely interested in. The major problem that I see with getting the twitter effect to work on regular television shows is that the shows are aired at different times in different time zones. I've seen complaints from West Coast viewers that tweeters are spoiling shows, and therefore I hold back on my tweeting. The Super Bowl and many of the major award shows are now aired live for everyone, so that isn't an issue.

    I hope that twitter does bring back people watching shows live. The size of the water cooler effect when everyone watched everything on the same night was great. I use my DVR when I can't watch something live. But I'm afraid too many younger millennials use it as a way of life.

    • I had the same thoughts about shows aired at different times due to time zones. This article was inspired by the issue I had with the Grammys not being aired all at once across all time zones. I dove into the tweets at the beginning of the show to find Twitter swamped with Grammy spoilers and winners occupying the top trending topics. I made it less enjoyable for me since I would have loved to experience the show along with everyone else in real-time.

      I resorted to a smaller subset of folks that are mainly in my time zone on Facebook. The stream is slower moving and allows for better commenting so it was a good fallback, but Twitter would have been nice. Thanks for your excellent comment.

  • Aurelius_Tjin

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Very interesting and informative. Thanks Adam! :)

  • Agoodrich

    This is a very interesting post on the emergence of social media in the television industry and I think you make some great observations. First, the idea that the compounding effect of Twitter to draw in real-time viewers leads to more viewers who don’t want to miss out is important to the future of social media. As stated in the related New York Times article, “the best form of advertising is a recommendation from a friend and a family member” which gives new meaning to the word “friend” when you have over 1,000 of them on Facebook. I think the potential to draw in your followers and friends to watch your favorite program and participate in dialogue in real-time has given the television industry a breath of fresh air. This is expressed in numbers, with the Grammy Awards reporting the highest rated show in over a decade, but also resonates in the future of social media. In an article by TechCrunch’s Micahel Arrington (…/), he quotes Bing Gordon defending his large investment in social media, “We’re making a blue ocean bet that social is just beginning. Usage habits will change dramatically over the next 4-5 years.” And I think Gordon is right. Habits are just now forming and are likely to permeate into all industries and television is just one of the first to benefit from social media. If your habits become your friends’ habits, online communities can be used to effectively predict what will be successful. What industry do you think will be hit next?

    Aside from increasing advertising exposure, the idea that viewers are now gathering around virtual couches to watch programs “together” and using social media simultaneously to share opinions will benefit networks as well. Aggregating data from the night of a show’s premiere can predict success far better than before. Based on your experience, do you think industry executives will be able to sift through all the content out there and get beneficial numbers and opinions? Personally, I think there needs to be a more effective way to block out the “noise” on these sites and highlight important content. While I haven’t found an aggregating site that I think effectively does this, viewers who sign up to receive special digital “stickers” might be a link to finding relevant content. Theoretically, it is the avid fans that sign up to receive premiere “stickers” and will probably be good indicators of success. Perhaps in the future, there will be an elite group of viewers that the industries look to on social media to lead discussions and offer feedback. Overall, I agree that this is just the tip of the iceberg and social media will continue to find its way into a wide array of industries and I can’t wait to be apart of the conversation.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. You bring up a lot of great points and questions. I agree that usage habits will change over the next few years. We continue to be surprised by the creative services and mediums that people have been creating over the last few years. In my opinion, this will accelerate.

      You mentioned something akin to networks using social media as a possible measure of success for shows in the future. They are likely already busy doing that now. Using many of the more sophisticated social media monitoring tools not frequently used by your average user (Ex: Radian6, SM2, and others), networks can quickly measure data points they are interested on their own. NLP (Natural Language Processing) will help networks and others pull sentiment from the discussions happening on the various networks such as Twitter. NLP is powerful and still in it's early stages.

      Once again, thank you for your great comment. I look forward to hearing your thoughts more on future posts.

  • So reading through your description of the changing TV landscape above, I thought of two things: 1) The increased community via Twitter, GetGlue, etc around certain programming could really help the networks raise their numbers, 2) That increased community doesn't do much at all for brands advertising on TV. In fact, people are now more likely tweeting or doing something else online so they still aren't paying attention to ads.

    What if brand tried a different way to reach consumers during these shows they are used to spending thousands or millions of dollars to advertise on? Say, for instance, instead of advertising three times on this Sunday's Academy Awards, Company A did one commercial during the show but then assigned their Twitter community manager(s) to participate in the Academy Awards conversation on Twitter. And by participate, I don't mean spamming the hashtag with advertising. But actually commenting on and engaging about the show. How do you think people would react?

    • As I read your first paragraph I said to myself “Well then advertisers are going to have to give folks something worth talking about.” Then you followed up with a great idea. We will see someone do this soon. I think people would love this idea when done right. Thanks for the great comment.

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  • Sgosselin

    Really enjoyed this story. I've been DVRing for some time through my cable company, but since we switched to DirectTV, I discovered how I can create a personal play list so I never have to watch anything in real time again. I think I may be binging on documentaries now, but on the upside, I think I know where Atlantis is now… I think you are definitely onto something with the whole real time Twitter/Facebook thing. But for it to really take off and become the norm, I think we will need to have some sort of technology that has a chat stream right off the right hand side on your TV screen. I heard a futurist talking about this more than 15 years ago and I think we are finally going to get there…where you can chat with friends and can even stop the action and order what the star is wearing online. I remember it sounded like science fiction at the time, but I think society may finally be at the tipping point for this technology. Should be a helluva lot more useful than 3D

    • Sgosselin Thanks for the comment. It is already happening. There are a slew of internet TVs. I know Vizio has a few models. Also, Google TV, Boxee, and others are trying to make watching TV and movies more social, but so far the reception by customers has been luke warm at best. People are fine with the 2 screen experience of having a laptop or smart phone in lap while watching something. Trying to stare at stuff streaming down the side of a screen where the show is playing… not so much.

  • Ebony

    This is so true. There are times when I know I'm going to miss a show and I will actually avoid twitter and facebook so that I don't know what happens in the episode before I have the opportunity to watch it. The other side of that is that I feel disconnected when i go and watch an episode of a show after it's original air date.


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