Twitter is launching a bold TV experiment and if it takes, it could change the face of second-screen viewing — at least as far as Twitter is concerned.
It’s only fitting since social media has, for the last five years or so been an agent of change for TV.
We don’t watch TV the way we used to — at least not anything we’re watching live. The conversations we used to have in our living rooms about Survivor, The Bachelor, Lost The Academy Awards and potboilers like Scandal, have migrated to social media.
A recent study by Nielsen says that at least 15% of TV viewers enjoy TV more “when social media is involved.” They’re also, Nielsen notes, still watching live TV. Adults (18 and over) watch over five hours of live TV per day. And when we watch live TV we use social media to engage, react and discuss.
On Twitter, we manage these interactions with hashtags. If you wanted to keep track of all the conversation revolving around the Academy Awards ceremony, you used #Oscar2015 in your tweets and watched for tweets containing that hashtag. Savvier Twitter users employ Twitter dashboards to track all the activity revolving around these hashtags. Tools like TweetDeck and Hootsuite and put all related tweets in a single column, while leaving your other columns, Notifications, your general Twitter stream, Discovery, untouched.
Twitter’s traditional homepage has always been little used in this quest to have the ultimate second-screen experience. But this Twitter TV Timelines experiment could change all that — at least for mobile. Sorry, there’s no indication this experiment is running on Twitter for desktop.
Mashable got early access to Twitter’s first foray into Twitter TV conversation management. It’s only accessible, in limited quantities, through Twitter for iPhone’s March 12 update.
The concept is fairly simple. Twitter sees you using a TV show-related hashtag, a character’s name, even a key phrase from one of a handful of designated shows. For this experiment it’s American Idol, Big Bang Theory, @Midnight and The Blacklist. A dialogue box pops up on your iPhone Twitter Timeline (at the top) and invites you to try out Twitter TV Timelines. If you accept, you’ll see a very unusual Twitter interface.
Think of TV Timelines as TweetDeck (which is owned and operated by Twitter) for TV. The interface is separated into three columns or panes that you can swipe through: Highlights, Media and All. This organization is designed to help make it easier for you to track not only all the conversation revolving around, say The Blacklists, but to also cut out all the noise by showing you highlights and key media. That media will include show-related photos, vines and videos.
The obvious benefit here is that you can dive deep into the Twitter conversation for one show and easily ignore everything else — because you’re not seeing anything else. Naturally, tweets built while you’re in the TV Timeline automatically include the show hash tag.
These shows and networks know about the experiment, but since it’s so early, it’s unlikely you’d see anything special from them beyond posts from the stars who are already live-tweeting their shows and networks posting content relating to the shows — something they’d also do anyway.
For now, our sources tell us there are no ads in the TV Timeline, though you would have to assume that will change if this graduates to a real Twitter feature.
Twitter is not commenting publicly on the experiment, though it’s obvious that serving as a better second-screen partner is a strategic move. After every major live TV event, both Twitter and Facebook tout engagement numbers. On the face of it, Facebook appears to be winning. It has a larger global audience and typically posts significantly larger numbers. On the other hand, we could be comparing apples to oranges. Are Twitter favorites analogous to Facebook likes? Do Twitter retweets equal Facebook shares?
Regardless, Twitter clearly wants to make it easier for second-screeners to use Twitter. One wonders if Facebook will respond with its own set of TV second screen viewing tools.
In the meantime, the TV Timelines experiment is Twitter’s most aggressive attempt to manage conversation topics. Twitter’s users are a fairly vocal bunch who will probably either love that they can dive so deeply into a single show’s conversation or resent to the level of Twitter’s control.
It’s worth noting, though, that TV Timelines may actually help stop people from hijacking a show hashtag for their own uses. In fact, I wonder if those errant tweets will even appear in Twitter TV Timelines. I can almost hear frequent TV show live-tweeter William Shatner shouting “hallelujah!” (or “Leave my Twitter stream alone!”) from here.
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