Lots of people in my Twitter world spent yesterday pointing at a Read Write Web post on What Glee Means for Twitter & Television. It's all familiarish stuff around second screen social media:

Twitter is becoming a side dish for prime time entertainment and, as the networks catch on, it's becoming a tool for bringing the audience back from the land of DVRs and time-shifted television into real-time viewing.

The hook for the article is the use of social media by the programme producers so:

The characters on Glee actually tweet and they tweet during the show. When Glee starts, the moment it airs for the first time on the East Coast, the tweets per second for Glee shoot up. They stay up there at a super high level at hundreds of [times] what they are before the show comes on until the moment the show ends and then they drop. [...] People feel like they have to watch the show while it's going on because the community is tweeting about the show and the characters are tweeting as the show's happening so [they have to] watch it in real time.

Which is interesting for TV production (although I guess radio presenters have been presenting and tweeting for quite a while). But it wasn't really the technique that caught my eye. Lots of people in TV spend lots of time talking about "event television" and "watercooler moments" (sorry). The PVR and catch-up services like iPlayer shifted the emphasis away from the broadcast and up to the episode as the thing that people talked about / pointed at etc. And now social media seems to be shifting the balance back toward the broadcast. Which makes it slightly less about the thing you've watched and slightly more about when you've watched it. Twitter etc allow for distributed communal viewing and make the "watercooler moment" (again sorry) and the broadcast moment one and the same.

From a broadcaster's point of view this is obviously good news because up until the closing credits of the first broadcast the broadcaster retains complete control. And once someone records to their PVR they lose at least partial control. Once a programme's recorded they can fast forward through advertising breaks which, for a mainly advertising funded medium, is a bit of a pain. And part of the reason I guess why product placement will be permitted on UK TV from next month.

The PVR argument is the usual one given for why the broadcast moment is still important to broadcasters. But there's more to post-broadcast loss of control than PVRs. Past the first broadcast there are obviously repeats and DVDs and box sets. But there's also bit torrent and a generation growing up who've grown used to asking for content and getting it. And once content is out in the wild and easily digitised and easily duplicated and easily distributed by a web which is world wide...

All of this is a particular problem for the broadcast industry which is still very much based around territorial releases. Glee for example debuted in the US in May 2009, but didn't arrive in Australia until September 2009. Social media might be useful as a means to switch people away from on demand and back to broadcast. But for all the problems it might solve it only exasperates others. Because the people you friend / follow / whatever on social media services aren't restricted to those who happen to live within reach of the same transmitter tower as you. Which means if you're in Australia you might be getting Glee spoilers four months before you're (legally) able to watch it. Or you could wait a couple of hours and just take the less legal route. Seeing social media as a handy way to expose your "product" is fine if you can control who it's exposed to and make sure there's some correlation between the exposees and the availability. But social media is web scale and global; the broadcast business model isn't.

Back in the day the music industry had similar problems with territorial releases timed to coincide with tours (and associated TV and radio interviews). But given time (and the intervention of Apple) they were able to adapt to a more connected world. That said it was easier for them; the record labels (or the major ones at least) often owned the publishing rights. The relationship between producers / distributors and rights holders in the broadcast industry isn't quite so cosy.

Anyway, all of this made me wonder what changes about "event television" when events start to be shared internationally rather than nationally / regionally. And whether social media is starting to change the definition of "event television".

In the past (and in the main) event television has tended to be more about programmes with a short shelf life (or rather programmes with content with a short shelf life). Match of the Day feels like an obvious example. If you watch on a Saturday night (and you haven't peeked at the sports results on the news and you don't have Sky) the content is relevant. If you catch the repeat on a Sunday (by which point you've probably read a paper or listened to the radio or checked a website) it's slightly less relevant. By the following Saturday it's relevance is pretty much zero. Obviously it still has historical value and if it's the episode where your team beat the local rival 7-0 it probably has value to you and fellow fans. But it's not going to be repeated at Christmas or rebroadcast on Dave or released on DVD.

So different programmes have different shelf lives. The Archers has audio books, 606 doesn't; Top Gear has DVDs, Crimewatch doesn't. Some content retains it's value well past first broadcast but that's the same content that retains its value when delivered via less legal routes. And it feels like that's the content that broadcasters should be working hard to get to audiences at first broadcast. But most of the social media effort seems to go toward more obvious targets; the kind of programmes that have always been focussed on audience feedback whether via the postbag or the phone or email. Which tend to be the kind of programmes whose shelf life is shortest. It might make for better programmes but it isn't about tempting audiences back toward broadcast before the content "escapes".

Glee is different. It's classic long shelf life content. It's been syndicated to numerous countries. It's available on DVD. I dare say it's available all over bit torrent. So the fact that the producers are using social media to tempt people back toward first broadcast is interesting. Because it isn't about a big media company using social media as another source of "user generated content" or a simple promotional channel; they're promoting the event, not the product.

I get the feeling that if a British broadcaster attempted to do what the producers of Glee are doing they'd pick on a Coronation Street or an Eastenders. But soaps, like phone-ins, are short shelf life. Given that broadcasters are spending money on social media and given that the pot of money to do that is limited I'm thinking the best place to spend that money is on long shelf life content rather than phone ins?

PS. If TV and social media is your thing you might want to read APIs and URLs for Social TV.