It was once said the internet would change the shape of the future. We are largely shaped by the way we communicate – our views of most things around the environment we live in is influenced by the conversations we have.
In many ways it is both a milestone and a reminder of the fact that 10 years ago there was no significant social media presence in Kenya. Currently more than a seventh of the world’s population is on social media. It is without doubt that the internet has become a profoundly integrated part of our lives. It is almost as if it shapes, and in a way impacts and influences, the way we do things.
The original or rather the traditional way of watching TV was remote control in the hand, curled up on a couch and eyes on the screen. Today it is more likely to be remote control swapped for a laptop, smart phone or a tablet. One would think viewers are good at multitasking, but that is not necessarily the case.
Today, the viewers have a chance to watch a show and share their sentiments in real time. There is no need to necessarily wait for a week or two to know if a show is a hit or not: those behind the show usually know this by the time they take the first commercial break.
In the recent past many have been sceptical of the relationship between social media chatter and TV ratings. It was in this sense: people talking about a show on, say Twitter, were previously probably only using it to create hype and generate viewership. But that seems to be changing.
According to Nendo, a Nairobi-based consultancy focused on uncovering online trends, the age of the “second screen” or social TV is where experts agree that the public will no longer watch television without a phone, a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop computer nearby.
“The second screen audience in 2014 will be in a stronger place to demand bolder advertising and communication from traditional marketers,” says Nendo in a report released recently. “The 2013 elections for the first time provided the country with local trends from microblogging social network Twitter. This allowed average Kenyans to finally be able to watch, and jump into local trending topics.”
There was an argument about social media and its move to online entertainment that this would distract audiences from the traditional TV viewing experience. But the unexpected happened, social media helped turn live airing programmes into “social events”. This changed as the popularity of Facebook and Twitter rose.
According to Larry Madowo, host of the popular NTV show The Trend, social media is probably the biggest game changer in how TV content is consumed in the last decade.“The ability to get feedback instantly, be it positive or negative, was previously impossible and even SMS was not nearly as effective,” he says.
He thinks anybody in the TV business now who ignores social media is deluded.
“This is not what they taught you in school but real life demands that you embrace social media not just for shameless self-promotion but also as a free focus group,” he says.
The conversations Twitter users have on their timelines actually matter to TV networks and instead of bemoaning the change, the TV stations are now encouraging people to get more involved in their shows and TV programming as they watch. There is a lot of supplement on-air programming content and social media is playing a big role in getting the word out as well as helping promote live shows.
Madowo’s show is one of the few that have mastered the art of engaging with viewers, something that still surprises the host.“Well, #theTrend is a social media phenomenon that still surprises me. People have such an invested interest in the show and we listen to them a lot more closely than ordinary TV shows usually would,” says Madowo.
He adds: “We’re unpredictable, irreverent, fun and provocative and our virtual audience has embraced that with religious gusto. Without social media, I probably wouldn’t have a show and even if I did, it wouldn’t be nearly as exciting.”
Social media has largely put the focus on television while new platforms are popping up focused entirely on the social experience of viewing TV. This has seen widespread adoption by TV networks and advertisers, who have realised that chatter online converts into ratings and even revenue.
It is as though the more your show is talked about the better the chances it stands of surviving in the market. It starts with a simple hashtag (a word or an unspaced phrase prefixed with the hash symbol) like #NowWatching which makes it easy to track the conversation.
When Tujuane first ran on TV, it didn’t get the anticipated warm reception. Many called it all sorts of things. A year later, it has become one of the most watched shows on local TV if Facebook and Twitter chatter is anything to go by.
The report by Nendo Ventures indicates that Tujuane generates about 9,000 tweets per show. Now, that would easily translate into #Tujuane being a top trend every time it airs.
“Whether or not local television shows were designed with the back channel in mind, Kenyan reality dating show Tujuane stands out as having one of the most loyal and viral followings of any television series. It generates approximately 9,256 tweets per episode, and in 2013 cumulatively inspired over half a million tweets. That is without monitoring Facebook and the rest of the web including blogs for other online mentions,” says Mark Kaigwa of Nendo.
The same social media chatter can also break a show especially when the conversation is exceedingly negative. This was exhibited recently after popular comedian Teacher Wanjiku premiered her first show under the same name. It seemed to have been a total failure both content wise and from reactions online. The programme on Citizen TV was cancelled after only one show.
When it comes to trolls, Madowo has no time for people whose only job is to hate for the sake of hating.
“I have a dream job, meeting interesting people and going to exciting places around the world. I’m sorry the lives of trolls haven’t worked out as well. In any case, I’m in this business to be watched and they’re doing that, the rest are details. I don’t let compensatory narcissists worry me,” he says.
Facebook and Twitter have forever changed television, and TV networks are taking advantage of this large market to engage with its fans and viewers. Many TV shows these days display hashtags in the bottom corner of the screen when these shows are on air. This makes it easy for viewers to get online and see what others are saying about the show.
So it seems that the message to those behind TV shows is that you cannot run away from social media, just embrace it. The era of the second screen is upon us.