Can hashtags save live TV?

If you watch primetime FOX television shows, you’ve probably noticed the hashtag in the bottom corner. [If you’re not sure exactly what a hashtag is, no worries. Check out this quick explanation from the folks at Twitter. Many primetime shows including Fringe, Glee, and Bones have been regularly using them for a few months. So what do hashtags have to do with TV?

Actually, a better question is: What do hashtags have to do with live TV?

If you’re like me, probably 10% of the programming you watch is live, not recorded. For me, this 10% is usually comprised of sporting events and the Disney Channel (It’s my toddler watching it, I swear.) And like me, you probably zip right past the deluge of commercials. Therein is the problem, of course. The more people that skip the advertisements, the less networks can charge advertisers.

So how do hashtags help?

Buzz. Building it to be more specific. About 86% of mobile Internet users (and 92% of 13- to 24-year-olds) are using their mobile devices simultaneously while watching television. Of that percentage, 40% are reading social networking sites.

You know that “trends” box in the left column at Twitter.com? Twitterheads watch that list to stay to date on what’s happening in the world, in real time. That list is calculated by tracking what hashtags are being used the most, at that moment. The more a hashtag is used, the more it’s seen by the Twitter universe.

And that’s a growing universe. About 15% of U.S. adult Internet users use Twitter. And 8% of users are actively engaged on Twitter every day, a number which has quadrupled since late 2010.

An episode of Glee will list a hashtag throughout the program. Fans watching the show live can comment throughout the episode on Twitter, using the hashtag. Reading #Glee in the trends list builds buzz, which leads to folks not watching the show to tune in to see what the buzz is all about … during the program.

Voila. They’re watching the show live, commercials and all. And a lot of these Twitter users tuning in won’t regularly watch the show, so not only are television shows driving more viewers to watch live, they’re getting new viewers. #DoubleWin.

An added bonus: Some shows display Twitter feeds on screen in near time, giving a few seconds of fame to fans who are tweeting. [ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, for instance. At least that’s what my Gram-Gram told me.]

Finally, one more advantage for the networks is hashtags make monitoring conversations about their programs much easier to track – and even to help shape and focus the conversations somewhat. Show producers and network execs can find out what is, and isn’t, working on shows by tapping into the almost-instant input from fans, via Twitter.

While we aren’t going to stop recording our favorite shows, Twitter hashtags just might pique our curiosity enough to tune in to backwoods catfish noodling or unhinged beauty pageant moms. My personal recommendation: #PhineasAndFerb. OK, I admit it. I’m a Disney Channel fan. My son’s the addict. #Honest.

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