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A Tale of Two Screens: The Rise of Social TV
By: Kimberly Shrack
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It’s a common scene. A search through the TV guide lands you on that show you have been waiting for all week (hello, Parks and Rec) or even all year (Oscars, anyone?). You settle down on the couch, maybe curling up under a blanket to add some coziness to event — it’s been a long day, after all. But you need one final element to make your viewing experience complete, and it ain’t popcorn. It’s your smartphone. Or tablet. Really anything connected to the Internet. And why? Because TV just isn’t as enjoyable if you aren’t talking about it online.
According to Nielsen’s latest U.S. Digital Consumer Report, 44% of smartphone and tablet users visit social networking sites while they are watching TV. And while some may be perusing news feeds or engaging in Twitter rants, many are talking about what they are watching at that very moment. This double screen, multitasking phenomenon has become so prevalent that it even has a name: social TV.
The rise of social TV has not gone unnoticed by the entertainment industry. Recently, more and more channels have begun featuring hashtags alongside their programming. FX’s American Horror Story owes its wild success not just to the bizarre and “I-have-to-know-what-happens-next” storylines, but also to heavy social media buzz. To initiate conversations about the new program, FX prominently featured the #FXAHS hashtag throughout all promotions, at the beginning of each episode and after many commercial breaks. Channel-promoted hashtags not only encourage viewers to start talking, but also tell them what to talk about. During reruns of 30 Rock featured on Comedy Central, the hashtags highlighted are memorable quotes from the episode currently airing, such as #ChristmasAttackZone, #FabienStrategy and #MarryBoffKill.
Not only are networks encouraging conversation, but they are also using it as a source of feedback. This has special implications for live TV, such as sporting events and award shows. Because the conversation about the event is happening in real-time, producers are able to gauge how they are doing while they are still doing it. Prerecorded programming is getting in on the action as well. One of the creators of Modern Family admitted the show’s writers closely follow what people say about the show on Twitter to gauge the effectiveness of jokes. They then use this feedback to develop content that will have a better chance of resonating with their audience.
And because we are in the midst of election season, it is also worth noting the impact social TV can have on the campaign trail. By analyzing the social media conversation during a televised debate, campaign officials and communications officers can identify those topics that created the most social buzz in real time — and tweak their candidate’s messaging accordingly.
As the number of smartphone and tablet owners steadily rise, the social TV trend will only continue to grow. As a PR pro, I am interested to see what new technologies and applications will sprout up as a result of this trend — and how we can leverage it for the benefit of our clients, in and out of the entertainment industry.  

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About the Author
Kimberly Shrack is a PR pro based in Philadelphia, specializing in writing and content development. She has worked in communication for a variety of industries including technology, travel, art, and healthcare. Follow her on Twitter at @kjshrack.
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