Social Television: Combining New and Old Media

It seems that recently there's a trend of TV taking over social media. The two main candidates for the US and UK (respectively) are RuPaul's Drag Race and Love Island. Both are ostensibly reality television programmes of which both seem to take over social media completely when on. But, are these programmes actually just programmes or are they a social phenomenon harnessed by a TV show.

Reality TV has always been linked with audience participation. Becoming largely popularised by shows such as Big Brother and, later X Factor. Have some element of the audience voting for the winner or the loser. This format, largely made possible by the advances in technology seems to be the starting point for what we see in the contemporary reality television smash hits. Love Island keeps the idea of an audience vote for the 'worst couple' to lose and 'leave the island' each week. Drag Race however has a panel of judges.

The difference being that early reality programmes (that use this format) tended to stop there. They'd maybe mention a hashtag or there might have even been an application developed. However the new-style of programme has integrated social media in a way unseen before.

Rather than rely just on word of mouth to come naturally these shows use social media as an extension of the show itself. New memes are created and virally spread. Formats allow for a greater 'virality' of the show. Especially Drag Race which utilizes its bombastic appeal incredibly well to travel everywhere. Quite often when a show is airing all of the trends on twitter (in English) will be show-related.

It's not so much that there's a TV programme here but a set of spin-off media that self-promotes the show. That gets people sucked into watching the programme itself but also thinking about and interacting with the discourse around it in a way that the old shows did not manage. Watching Drag Race or Love Island you will not find anything particularly 'stimulating' but the nature of these programs is to cause some level of outrage (not necessarily in the negative sense) in the viewer.

We've entered a contemporary mastery of the synthesis of old and new media into a neat package to rile up the audiences into spilling into the online. We've seen this not only with reality TV but also things like Game of Thrones whose last season caused much controversy. One sub-edit has raised over one-hundred thousand pounds for charity. There is a new paradigm for media going into the 20s that show-runners must comprehend to be able to compete. No longer can you make a hit show by just being 'good' you need to have a grasp on the social aspects and how your programme is shared.

We see even further into this with the advent of the Big Brother clone "The Reality House" which is starting soon. This is essentially the Big Brother format transposed onto the high-energy new-media Youtube style link. Immediately in the announcement video we see a complete change in the energy of the video, many edits a lot of shouting. Something that fringe TV has tried before, sure, but for a large-scale audience (the video has around 2 million views at the moment). Immediately there is a social media response garnered by the fact that this 'programme' is inherent to that response as everyone featured is some level of internet-famous. Most of the video is essentially garbled and incomprehensible audio with quick cuts to keep interest and 'game the algorithm' into keeping a long watch time, which on Youtube keeps your videos being recommended.

The advent of this new-media old-media hybrid looks to be the only way for television to keep its hold on audiences especially as people grow on ever more fast-paced media. TikTok is the epitome of this sort of media, no longer do people sit to watch a thirty minute programme, there is now a flexibility in watching some number of short videos until you are bored and move onto another task. This is what show runners need to contend with, implementing some social layer to your show ensures that there is a constant focus switch as the watcher flips between the show and some social media, keeping it interesting for the watcher. A lot of these shows also use fast cuts and short shots rather than a long and still shot to keep things more interesting for the viewer.

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