What can I do tonight: watch TV or surf Facebook?
Increasingly, people are doing both simultaneously. And checking their email. And interacting with actors or news anchors.
It's called "social TV," using a second screen to engage on social media sites while tuning into shows. And advertising and TV station officials have noticed. They say the trend is changing the way people consume television, making it more of a social activity because of the Web.
On Monday night, Allie Becher tuned in for the season finale of ABC Family's "Pretty Little Liars," and chatted back and forth with her friend. Becher from her Boca Raton home, her friend all the way in Boston.
"It's an easy way for both of us to do something together, so we can stay in touch," said Becher, 16, who dished on her laptop. "It's more fun."
A recent study by ratings service company Nielsen found that about 40 percent of smartphone and tablet owners in the United States used their devices daily last year while watching TV. Although many of them are checking emails, about 42 percent of these users also are logged onto social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
This year's Super Bowl, which drew a record 111 million viewers, led to about 12 million comments posted on social media sites during the game. Around 252 tweets per minute were sent during the royal wedding in April. And about 8,800 tweets were dispatched in a second when singer Beyonce revealed she was pregnant during the MTV Video Music Awards in August.
"It's a backchannel conversation," said Mike Proulx, co-author of the new book, "Social TV: How Marketers Can Reach and Engage Audiences by Connecting Television to the Web, Social Media, and Mobile."
"People are sharing moments while they are watching TV," he added. "They can have access to people well outside the boundaries of their living room to share in the TV shows they are passionate about."
TV viewing has always been a social experience. In the early days, families would huddle around a TV set to watch Milton Berle on NBC's "Texaco Star Theater" or Lucille Ball's "I Love Lucy." Over time, viewers called each other up to discuss shows or met around the water cooler at work the next day to gab about shows like CBS' "Survivor" or Showtime's "The L Word." Today, more people own smartphones and tablet computers and can use them virtually anywhere.
Scott Thaler, executive vice president and chief interaction officer at Fort Lauderdale's Zimmerman Advertising, said social TV emerged because people are busier and therefore naturally multitasking more.
"Whether it be a tablet or TV or a smartphone, all of them are giving people some of their time back," he said. "In all cases, it will create new opportunity for brands and televisions to garner greater engagement and sales."
The trend is also catching the attention of TV officials and advertisers who are using that interactivity to draw viewers and clients.
It's no longer just about Nielsen ratings. Local TV and ad officials say social media comments about a show are discussed in sales meetings. Manuel Martinez, general manager at WTVJ-Ch. 6, said he would be open to using such data in future sales pitches.
The social information can help TV officials get a better understanding of what may be working on a show, or find out who or what has a buzz factor online, according to a 2011 study by eMarketer. Each week, tech website mashable.com also ranks the top 20 TV shows with the most social buzz.
Shows are increasingly inviting viewers to Tweet or use Facebook during broadcasts, which in turn keeps people tuned in and can boost ratings. NBC's new reality show,"Fashion Star,"has designers competing a la "Project Runway"and encourages viewers to buy the winning design in each episode.
Zimmerman Advertising's Thaler and his wife, Lara, who watch the show with smartphones or Apple iPads tablets in hand, sent Twitter updates as they tried to buy a design recently featured on the show. By the end of the show, they learned it was sold out.
Viewers also are using Facebook and Twitter to interact with TV anchors during newscasts -- with some anchors replying in real time.
TV station officials and their web producers encourage the social media back-and-forth between their viewers and on-air talent because it can cultivate news tips and foster loyal viewership. During the NBC morning show "Today,"a crawl asks viewers: "Do you Tweet? We do. Follow us." The station also has a social media contest called "I LIKE IT," where viewers who sign up on Facebook and watch the 11 p.m newscast can win a vacation or gas card.
"We do things like that to connect more" with the viewers, said Martinez, of WTVJ.
Alice Jacobs, vice president of local programming at Sunbeam Television Corp., which owns WSVN-Ch. 7, said social media also helps "the viewer become more engaged with the news-gathering process."
One viewer recently sent her anchors a Tweet and a photo about a dump truck that had overturned onFlorida's Turnpike. That tip was used during the newscast. "Sometimes through social media, someone will bring something more to the story to follow up on. Say we do a story and someone emails or Tweets us, 'I would love to help them.'"
WSVN anchors Belkys Nerey and Craig Stevens use social media to alert viewers about upcoming stories in their newscasts. They also respond to viewers during their program. Last week, Stevens snapped a photo of his news script and shared it with his Facebook followers. Nerey also posts updates about her weekend plans.
Brian Rene, of Coral Springs, logs on to Facebook on his home computer to interact with the duo during the 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts.
"It makes the news interactive," said the fitness instructor. "I have never met Craig [Stevens], but I feel I know him through his posts."
Bill Cooke, a North Miami freelance photographer and author of South Florida media blog, randompixels.blogspot.com, watches local TV news while logged onto Facebook.
"In the old days, you would call somebody up and say, 'Are you watching so and so?' You don't have to do that anymore. You are on Facebook. You can connect with other people. You are not alone."
Most Popular Stories
- Entrepreneurs Chase Social Media
- Schedule packed with talent at the Fox
- European Car Sales up First Time in 20 Months
- I never set out to be a role model but it's great to be one ; IN THE HOTSEATBetter known by his stage name Wretch 32, Jermaine Sinclair is a 28-year-old rapper from London. In 2011 his debut album Black and White sold over a million copies and scored three top five singles. His latest single Blackout was released this week
- Austin musicians point to a variety of reasons to appreciate McCartney
- Manila's Hollywood Week
- The Blade, Toledo, Ohio, TK Barger column
- Promoter McLean 'provided more musical joy than Dylan and Prince combined'
- Emirati announces new film project at Cannes
- SINCE YOU ASKED [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)]