How Online Communities Are Changing the Way We Watch Television

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Earlier this year we posted a series of examples of online communities in the TV industry. We looked at the way ‘old’ and ‘new’ media combine, how television broadcasters and production companies are working with online media. The examples we chose were all of ways in which online communities can be used to provide an additional set of experiences for a viewer, often after a programme has aired. From Channel Four’s Sexperience online community which supported the Sex Education Show to HGTV’s  Rate My Space online community for people to share home improvement photos and tips.

These communities all have one thing in common – they provided an additional set of experiences for a viewer that enhance or extend their experience with the programme. They are for people who enjoy the programme and who want to engage more or find out more.

Things have changed in just a few months – the latest use of online communities for TV programmes is very different. They are now being used to add a social dimension to the actual viewing experience. Using online community tools to enhance a viewer’s experience while they are watching the actual show. We’ve written before about how two live shows in the UK have been experimenting with this use of social media tools: Live TV and real-time chat: X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. But a new example from the UK shows how this use of online communities to enhance TV programmes is not restricted to live programmes.

Come Dine with Me is a popular cooking competition show on Channel Four in the UK. The concept is simple but addictive: four contestants host a dinner party for the other contestants on four subsequent evenings. Each host is rated by the other contestants and the person with the highest score wins. It’s a show that has always attracted a lot of discussions online as a quick Twitter search shows. Channel Four has now capitalised on this by hosting its own discussions on its site whilst the show is on air.

The Come Dine With Me ‘Play Along’ community shows how you can harness the conversations that are going on already and also enhance the viewer experience. The discussions in Twitter had always been of three kinds:

  1. People giving their own ratings of what is happening on the show – saying the score they would have given for a particular dinner party
  2. People commenting on the food or the ambiance at the parties
  3. People talking about the contestants – who they like and why, and who they are less keen on

The Channel Four online community now allows people to do this in real time and on their site whilst the show is on air. They allow you to score each contestant against a set of criteria (and see the average score given by your fellow community members). They allow you to chat about what’s happening on screen and the host of the chat prompts you to discuss what is happening right now.

This is a great example of online communities really adding value to a viewers experiences in three ways:

  1. They allow you to interact with other viewers who are sharing the same experience and who are interested in the same things
  2. They are add a new dimension to the programme – letting you take part in the contest to
  3. They have the benefit of being hosted by the same people who are broadcasting (or producing) the programme – you feel like you have inside access to information

The way we watch television is changing. Online communities are changing it. They add a new, social dimension to actual viewing experience. In time more and more programmes will be accompanied by online discussions and debates in this way. It will become the norm for many people to sit in front of two screens rather than just one.

Image by l-b-p- 09 via Flickr

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