This article was originally published in January 2014 but remains very relevant in December 2019. Social media, especially Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube continues to change the way we consume TV and movies.
I was 10 years old when the first episode of “LOST” premiered on ABC. I remember watching the Pilot like it was on yesterday. I sat, curled up on the couch in my usual seat next to my dad and when the episode ended, I looked at him and said, “This could be good.” And it was. It was very good.
I was the first of my friends to use Twitter. I made an account because I heard that Ashton Kutcher had one. I guess I liked him enough to investigate. My screen name was “sunshinelostiee,” which is fairly embarrassing, but it could be worse. My old AIM screen name was “dogchix.” Yeah. I spelled “chicks” with an “x.” Now, THAT’S embarrassing. But back to the point… I had no idea what I was doing, but somehow I found a group of fellow “LOST” fans on Twitter. The rest, I suppose, is history.
Advancing technology has changed everything about entertainment. The sweeping revolution is impossible to ignore. The change is evident through breathtaking, impressive visual films like “Gravity,” through film premises like “Her’s,” where a guy falls in love with his operating system and it’s totally believable, and through simpler things, like the boom of self-employed critics online.
No matter how you look at it, social media is doing a lot to television and film. So, let’s talk about it.
Creating a buzz
Every show on TV is now shown with a hash tag posted at the bottom of the screen. That tag is there for a reason. Twitter trends are doing more than fuel existing fan conversations; they’re creating more fans. People are watching shows that they hear about online. This phenomenon isn’t new. Before social media, people watched shows that they heard their friends discussing. Now, thanks to social media, everyone on the Internet, with the click of a button, is a friend.
The first season of “Breaking Bad” averaged 1.2 million viewers. The second season’s premiere saw a viewer increase of 41.6%. 2.9 million people watched the premiere of the fifth season. Viewership then jumped 102% for the midseason premiere. And an astounding 10.3 million viewers watched the final episode. I don’t think this a coincidence. This is social media at work.
Sure, social media isn’t everything. There’s a lot at work here. For example, it helped that the episodes became available on Netflix and awards helped too, but people were watching because they were told to watch. They were watching because everyone was talking about “Breaking Bad.”
But just like Twitter can make a show or movie, it can easily break it. Remember “The Lone Ranger,” that movie with Johnny Depp? I don’t. I didn’t see it, and I didn’t see it because critics on social media told me not to. I love Johnny Depp. Like, intensely. I once told a friend that I would pay ticket price to watch Johnny Depp stare at the camera for three hours. I was only kind of joking. But as a perpetually poor college student, I just can’t pay to see everything in theaters, so I rely on opinions that I respect to help make my decisions easier. So when critics that I respect on Twitter advise that I pass on “The Lone Ranger,” I pass on it. I can promise that I would have seen it if the reviews had been different, and I don’t think I’m the only making decisions this way.
I’m using social media for more than just viewing decisions. I’m also using it to make friends. In fact, the opportunity for me to write this blog exists because of social media. I’ve contributed to websites, won contests, and made genuine friends through Twitter and Facebook. Indeed, to me, the best thing social media has done for television and film is to inspire strong connections between fans.
I have a friend in Hawaii. We met through “LOST.” I have another in California. He’s a student, like me, and he’s interested in screenwriting. Sometimes we text and send each other scripts to offer opinions about. We met through Twitter. I regularly see stories on Tumblr about online friends meeting for the first time. One of my close friends dated a girl he met through the show, “Castle.” It’s happening everywhere.
Social media is bringing fans together and helping them establish legitimate connections. Some might argue that social media is making viewing a more independent individual experience, and in a lot of ways, I can see that point.
Streaming a show or movie alone in a dark room at 2 a.m. is easy and popular these days. Sometimes I watch entire seasons of shows on Netflix without leaving my room or speaking to everyone. But I want to argue that social media is actually helping to socialize viewing. Even while alone in that dark room, pouring through seasons, we can share our thoughts. We can discuss and debate. We can connect.
Connection between creators and viewers
The connections inspired by social media don’t end with fans. Creators are interacting with viewers more than ever thanks to sites like Twitter and Reddit.
Benedict Cumberbatch did an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit and revealed so many amazing things. He loves “Annie Hall,” you guys. He loves “Annie Hall.” His answers were snarky and eloquent and generally perfect. It’s just further proof to me that we’re soul mates, separated only by distance, age, and circumstance. One day, we will be together.
I guess that’s my point, really. I feel like I know Benedict Cumberbatch. And Jared Padalecki. And Zooey Deschanel. And even, in a way, Justin Bieber, even if I don’t think I really want to know him. Because social media allows these people to let us into their lives, even if it’s only through a series of questions on Reddit or 140 characters on Twitter.
Fans can connect to their favorite creators like they’ve never been able to before, and to be honest, I don’t know if that’s really changed anything or not. I like to think that it’s made viewers more engaged, more passionate, but how does one quantify passion?
For now, I’ll just speak from personal experience. Social media has helped me feel like I’m truly connecting to actors and writers, and I’m guessing it’s helped a lot of other people feel that way, too.
Part of the beauty of these social media connections is the opportunity to share real-time reactions to shows and movies. Although, I must say, if you’re posting your reactions to a film while sitting in the theater, stop that. Immediately. You’re annoying and rude and I probably don’t like you. There’s a special level of Hell reserved for those who ruin movies with that blinding little light of a cell phone.
Anyway. Remember the Red Wedding? Sure, you do. It was everywhere. Even if you don’t watch “Game of Thrones,” you probably saw the tweets, statuses, and reaction videos. News organizations jumped all over the reactions of horrified fans. There were compilations everywhere. Thanks, social media. That was fun.
By the way, I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you this, but you should really watch “Game of Thrones.” You’re missing out on something great. It has dragons, violent politics, and gratuitous nudity. Honestly, what more could you want?
I can’t talk about social media and entertainment without that dreaded word. You know the one. That’s right… Spoilers. If you live under a rock, a “spoiler” is any information that tells you the events of something before you’ve seen them for yourself.
Spoilers, as the name implies, spoil things, and they adore social media. Of course they do. Because before social media, spoilers weren’t really a thing. Spoilers amounted to going to work and listening to your annoying coworker, Bill, ramble about a movie he saw over the weekend and give everything away before you could shut him up. Now, you need only log on to any account to have a show or movie ruined.
While this spoiler plague is legitimately annoying, I don’t want to spend much time talking about it. Because, thankfully, there is a very simple cure for spoilers… Just don’t get on social media if you haven’t seen something. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. And even more importantly, don’t go online the night that something airs if you haven’t watched it yet. Geez, it’s just so simple. Use your brains, people. That’s all I have to say about that.
Unless someone stalks you, breaks into your house, and forces you to listen to his opinions on a show you haven’t watched yet, then getting spoiled is probably your fault. Yes, it was even Jennifer Lawrence’s fault when a reporter spoiled “Homeland” on the red carpet. I know she’s busy acting and winning awards and generally taking over the world, but one must have priorities. There’s TV to watch!
The bottom line
I can’t remember a time before social media. Really, I can’t. I’m 20 and I’ve been online forever. First it was message boards about “LOST,” which I am not at all embarrassed about, then it was Myspace, then Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. There’s also YouTube, Instagram, Vine, Reddit… I could go on and on. The point is that social media rules the world, whether we like it or not.
Some lament the increased focus of technology in our world, but I choose to see the positives. Viewers have more power than ever before. We can interact with writers and actors. We can connect with fellow fans. We can discuss and theorize like we’ve never been able to before. We can keep our favorite shows on the air.
It’s a lot of power, and as long as we use it for good – to save shows like “Community” and make lasting friendships – then I think we’ve got a decent thing going.
I think we’re going to be fine.