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The revolution is being televised: Social media, broadcast, and VoD

Reports are currently circulating about Facebook’s efforts to get involved in the world of television, building on its already established credentials as a broadcast hub.

Don’t get too excited, though, from what we can see there has been more said about what won’t be allowed, than what will be. Bad language, nudity, politics, and ‘contentious drama’ are all, apparently, off the menu, leaving game and reality shows, and benign fictional series in the offing. None of which are things the world seems to be short of right now.
Nevertheless, it’s a big investment for the network, which has apparently set aside $3million for each episode that will be produced, with a raft of US studios now eager to jump aboard. This comes at a time when social media and broadcasting has been all over the news, both for the right reasons- Snapchat receiving $500million from NBCUniversal and hosting short-form shows, including Saturday Night Live content- and the wrong reasons; from fake news to Facebook’s refusal to share the wealth with broadcast media agencies like Channel 4, which have helped the network rise to prominence as a news source.

Interactive TV

Twitter has also been experimenting in this area, allowing users to tune in for live televised events such as NFL football in the U.S. with the click of a button on the app, allowing them to watch the action unfold as though it were on the old box, but also take in a stream of tweets relating to what they are seeing. Perhaps what’s most exciting about this idea, as featured in this story on Wired, is the way in which these feeds of social content that supplement the broadcast will, eventually (hopefully), be tailored to the individual user, so they will only see what’s deemed relevant to them by the mighty algorithms. All very high tech indeed.
These movements towards professional television hosted on social networks are in many ways just one more step down a line that began with the idea of filming yourself- from YouTube to Facebook Live to Twitter’s integration of the old Periscope network. The uptake on the latter two has been huge, although perhaps not in the way the powers that be were expecting. That puddle in Drummond, England, became a phenomenon as tens of thousands tuned in, or rather clicked to watch, other people trying not to get wet. Meanwhile, murders have been committed using this technology, and live sex acts were becoming so frequent by last year Facebook had announced a plan to stop people from going live when they should be shutting the door and closing the curtains.

Video on demand v community spirit

Whichever way you look at it all, though, there’s certainly an appetite for viewing things- from the fascinating to the farcical, traumatising to trite- via social media, and the ability for these networks to give us more than TV’s one-way-street cannot be denied. Ultimately, though, it will come down to the quality of programming available in terms of social media’s ability to truly start dominating professional television. And there’s some stiff competition out there.
Netflix’s original output is unarguably high standard, although there’s so much of it sometimes you do wonder what all the series are like people don’t spend all day at work talking about (clue- there are some definite duds in there). Amazon has made some equally big waves with its flagship dramas on the Prime service.
More traditional platforms aren’t being left behind this race to the top, either. The BBC continues to produce shows of a very high standard, hence its revenue from sales of content to foreign partners never looking healthier, and Channel 4 can also compete with the best from across the world these days, whilst its Walter Presents on-demand selection is home to some of the most interesting drama productions from every corner of the globe.
Yet numbers continue to fall when it comes to people tuning in to traditional broadcasters. According to Business Insider, in the five years to 2015, UK TV viewing figures amongst audiences below the age of 44 fell by 11%, and even the older demographics reduced the time they spent ogling the tube, by 5%.
The main cause of this has been VoD services, which have now found a place in the homes of six in ten British adults. That’s logical, given the benefits- with no schedule you can watch what you want, when you want, and in many instances the amount of exposure to advertising feels (even if it isn’t) lower than if you’re tuned in to a commercial channel. But this might be only one side of the coin, if the New York Times can be believed, with this piece on how television is returning to a bygone era.
Shows are being consumed more communally again, facilitated by social media. People from across the world can now talk about what they are watching, discuss plot lines, or take the Michelangelo, as the programme is unfolding. According to the article, this shared viewing experience can only really work when the show is ‘live’, i.e. watched at the time it was scheduled to be broadcast, as that’s when the majority of other viewers will also be engaging.
Perhaps all is not lost for things like the Radio and TV Times then, but one thing is for sure- television as we know it is experiencing a dual upheaval, and as social networks continue to explore the possibilities they can offer viewers, it seems unlikely they won’t further consolidate their status as broadcast entities-proper. So yes, the revolution will be televised, we’re just not quite sure what time, or what screen it’s going to be shown on.

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