In the past, watching television was something we either did alone, with the family, or, if you were a kid in the 80s, while sitting on the couch with the phone to your ear. For the most part, we watched in real time, and the phrase “Spoiler Alert” didn’t exist. If you wanted to know who shot J.R., you sat in front of your television on the night of November 21, 1980 and you found out along with the rest of your time zone.
But then came VCRs, DVDs, DVRs, online streaming, and all the rest of it. And suddenly we weren’t prisoners to our televisions. Addicted to “Top Chef” but have book group on Wednesday nights? No problem. You can always catch up over the weekend. In fact, some people even wait until an entire season of a show is over so they can do a marathon viewing of every single episode over the course of a weekend. Instant gratification: it’s all the rage.
That being said, there are still a few reasons to watch television “live.” The biggest reason that comes to most people’s mind is that no one wants to find out something that happened to their favorite character from Twitter. We can’t even express how outraged we were earlier this year when a certain Facebook friend spilled the beans on the fate of a certain “Downton Abbey” character only an hour after the show aired. But watching television live isn’t just about avoiding spoilers. Rather, it’s about watching television socially. Joining in on the conversation as it’s happening. Being part of a community, even as you’re sitting in your living room with a pint of ice cream. There are even apps like GetGlue and Miso that are solely dedicated to helping you enrich your social TV-watching experience.
Which brings us to the question: Which TV programs are best paired with a “second screen?”
We wrote down our favorites. Let us know which of yours we missed in the comments.
Any Sporting Event
Sports are one of the few remaining television events that beg to be watched live. Knowing the results ruins the game and it’s basically impossible to avoid finding out the score. Trust us, we tried one time when we had to travel home from a wedding during a 49ers/Green Bay game. We made it the entire day, turning our head away from every TV screen in the airport, and managed to get in line to board the plane when a guy in front of us said, “I knew the Niners couldn't pull it out.” The best part though about watching a game live? Twitter erupts with opinions and commentary on almost every single meaningful play or score.
Same idea as above. If you’re invested in the Golden Globes or the Oscars, watching them is just not going to be the same if you already know that Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress. (Though we did turn to YouTube to re-watch her adorable acceptance speech after her stumble up the stairs.)
We watched the premiere of AMC’s “Mad Men” live. Usually, we DVR the show and watch it later so that we don’t have to pause for commercials. But in this case, we either watched it live or waited a few days. Surprisingly, watching it live was a great experience. Those pesky commercials? A great time to get a snack or run to the restroom. Or… as we discovered… see what everyone was thinking about the characters and plotline—in real time.
As one of the most opinionated people on Twitter said:
Real fans watch. I don’t even wanna hear your “OMG SPOILERS!!” crap tonight.
— Mike Monteiro (@Mike_FTW) April 8, 2013
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ABC Family’s shows are geared towards tweens (though we’ll admit we’ve seen every single episode of #PLL) and so is their social media strategy. ABC Family uses hashtags to describe key moments during the shows and increase engagement. Does it work? According to Twitter, yes. During the 2011 season, the aggregated number of real time tweets about the show was between 20K and 70K an hour. In case you need further proof they’re doing it well… “Pretty Little Liars” recently won the Shorty Industry Award for Best Use of Social Media for Television.
AMC makes the list twice thanks to “The Walking Dead,” one of the most popular shows on television, at least according to our Twitter feed. The show is active on Facebook with contests and quizzes and engages viewers on Twitter during episodes with questions and relevant hashtags.
HBO’s “Girls” seems to the most-talked about show that everyone claims not to watch. However, considering HBO is a paid channel, the buzz around Leah Dunham’s show is quite impressive. This is mostly due to the “controversial” material covered in each episode, but “Girls” has a social strategy as well, one that includes small things that resonate with loyal viewers, like unique GetGlue stickers for each episode and real-life rewards for checking in.
The CW’s hit series “The Vampire Diaries” is known for its social activity success (and its very attractive stars). It repeatedly has the most Twitter mentions and GetGlue check-ins of all primetimes series on broadcast television. The reason? We’re guessing it has something to do with tween girls and their obsession with everything Vampire.
Most shows where a competitor has a chance to get the boot do well “socially” for a few simple reasons. Viewers want to watch in real-time to avoid finding out the fate of a contestant after the fact. Viewers are invested in the storylines of the participants and want to express their opinions. And many of the programs actually encourage viewers to tweet their opinions. “Splash,” a new reality show that follows celebrities as they train and compete in diving, posts their favorite tweets about the show as it’s happening, an easy way to encourage viewers to pick up their phones and start typing.
We’ll go ahead and admit that we don’t watch this show, but it appears that may be a mistake as CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” saw the most social media activity in all of 2012. People just seem to really like this show because it even does well socially (and in the Nielsen ratings) during reruns. You remember those, right?