So You Think You Can Tweet

It's confession time.

I try to put on a countercultural, intellectual persona here, but the truth is that I'm a fan of reality TV – some of it, anyway. In particular, despite having two left feet and being completely the wrong demographic, I adore So You Think You Can Dance (the US version; the judges ruin the Canadian version — take it up in the comments if you want to fight that one). Season 8 finished yesterday, with the brilliant Melanie Moore winning over the equally brilliant Sasha Mallory, and I'll miss my weekly fix for the rest of the summer. Here's two minutes of why I love it.


There. Don't you feel better?

I know I'm getting sold a packaged bill of goods by a mega corp, but it works because even the best efforts of Gatorade and other sponsors, and the sometimes high cheese factor, cannot smother the heart of the show, which is that a lot of very talented young folks work really hard, put their heart and soul into what they do, and produce some great routines. Plus, Cat Deeley is adorable.

Anyway, one thing many people do after watching shows like this is see what others are saying on various forums and so on about the performances. And I do the same. It's not just me either – there is a trend for TV shows and the Internet to be jointly marketed (Jeff Probst tweets along with Survivor episodes as they broadcast) and as computers move out of the study (if you have one) and into the living room (hello iPad), it's only going to get bigger. A lot bigger.

Jenny Davis at Cyborgology tells us that the biggest twitter volumes ever recorded were at the end of the Women's World Cup final last month. Glee fans are apparently big at using social media while watching, according to ReadWriteWeb. Yahoo! claims! that! over!80% of! TV! watchers! use a mobile device while watching. The Beeb chimes in with the same kind of numbers. For the TV companies, a big benefit is that social media makes audiences watch the show when it's on, rather than timeshifting it to skip the ads and watch a more convenient time.

It's time to get to my point, which is that the standard story of how we have moved from the old world of mass media TV to the fragmented new worlds of the Internet is misleading. It's quite possible that the Internet will end up complementing mass media, rather than competing with it.

I'll post more about this mistake later, but I'll save you that for now and instead give you what's probably the best known routine for any SYTYCD fan, the Tim Burton-esque Ramalama. Enjoy.




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  1. Hi Tom,
    I don’t know if I’d say that the TV-internet mix is all about joint marketing (as you might say about TV shows and video games or action figures). The shows can try to cash in on the trend, but at its heart the internet is a place where anyone can communicate to the world, and that free expression drives much of the rest. (I think we may disagree on that.)
    I too watch one reality show, and it’s American Idol. The thing about AI is that when the show is (frequently) bad, then the online discussions are more fun. It’s not really something that would work on the AI web site, as the people we love to hate are the craven producers, lazy and stupid judges, and spray-tanned host.
    That’s not to say that noone online is cashing in on AI discussions. Along with blogs, there are web sites with ads that are devoted to AI discussions, and companies like MTV have hired journalists to write weekly columns. But that cashing in isn’t a business model for the TV show. It’s more like the woman at the farmer’s market who sells Barbie dresses that she’s made herself. And the online discussions are more like what we used to call water cooler conversations at work, even though they’ve evolved.
    I worry that tablets are changing the game. Increasingly it seems that media feeds for tablets require subscriptions: I can read a newspaper for free on the regular web, but to have it delivered to my tablet I have to pay $10/month. Could that spill over and eventually change the internet from a mostly-free resource to a pay-per-use model?
    Or maybe the only devices for consuming the internet will become smartphones and tablets (with all their user fees) and we’ll think of desk/laptops as obsolete “dumb computers” because they lack GPS, magnetometers, RFID readers, amazing apps, and so on. (Really. You can point your smartphone at the night sky and an app will tell you what constellations you are looking at; with a PC you have to search through static diagrams. You can point your smartphone at a house and get the entire real estate history of the property, along with who lives there. And smartphones are only just getting started.)
    Along with a change in the business model, the social media explosion could kill itself with insufficient privacy protection and over-sharing – like a star exploding and then sucking all its matter back into itself. There could be a backlash of public sentiment and government regulation.
    The next generation may look back on the free internet as a temporary phenomenon of its early years. I may be wrong about the particulars, but it seems clear that we’re in a state of flux and that business models will be vital in determining what happens. (Can newspapers continue to lose money as they thrash about trying to figure it out?)

  2. Holy self-disclosure Batman 🙂
    New media certainly compliments shared experiences. Any live or scheduled event that can reach a large audience qualifies. Old mass media tv has mastered synchronized broadcasts with tremendous reach. When you think about it this is one of the key characteristics of Twitter too.
    I think you could apply a set of rules, let’s call them ShEO (Shared Experience Optimization) that applies to any type of media, old or new.

  3. I guess that’s done for whatever cred I had, right?
    I like the ShEO acronym.

  4. Hi Ruth,
    Your taste in reality shows does raise doubts about your other thoughts, but thanks for posting them. Tim Wu’s “The Master Switch” argues some of the same things you do about the closing of the Internet.

  5. If I understand self-disclosure properly, I think you have further endeared yourself to your readers.
    Its funny, not everything works for self-disclosure. Harmless and embarrassing works. Harmful behavior that has been overcome works. Harmful behavior without remorse or shame does not. Too much information with respect to private preferences does not.
    I’m not sure when harmless and embarrassing crosses over into too much information.

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