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The Decoupling Fluctuation

The Decoupling Fluctuation

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Most Mondays, Jacob Geiser watches pro wrestling with buddies who are so tight they finish each other’s wisecracks. But when he sinks into the couch to enjoy the action, there’s no one else in the room.

In fact, he’s never even met most of his wrestling friends.

Geiser, 24, is part of a rapidly growing group that keeps one eye on the TV and the other on a laptop or smartphone, tweeting furiously with cyberpals about everything from an outrageous chokehold to an OMG twist on ABC’s “Nashville.”

“I like the idea that there are other people watching the same thing I am and that I can engage with them,” said Geiser, an Eden Prairie, Minn., desktop support specialist who once spit out 250 tweets during an episode of “Lost.”

In just a couple of years, the marriage between social media and TV-watching has gone from a curious novelty to an addictive habit, one that is changing how we watch television and, perhaps, what we watch on television.

This year Americans have posted more than 750 million social-media messages on such sites as Twitter and Facebook while watching their favorite shows, according to Trendrr, a New York-based company that tracks social media. Traffic is up more than 800 percent from a year ago.

Show insiders are participating, too. Almost the entire cast of ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” has answered fan questions during episodes, which may explain why the show’s midseason finale in August drew 709,000 tweets in an hour, making it the most “social” TV episode in history.

“Back when I was a teenager, the only way you could express interest was to send a letter to Shaun Cassidy and then wait six weeks for something to come in the mail,” said Danielle Mullin, ABC Family’s vice president of marketing. “Now you can directly tweet one of our stars and if they tweet back to you, it’s like the best day of your life.”

Dana Delany, star of ABC’s “Body of Proof,” was reluctant to get a Twitter account. But last year the network put the pressure on. Now she’s hooked.

“Viewers can get little inside stories about shooting an episode, from what I was wearing to how did I learn to cry like that,” Delany said.

Kunal Nayyar, who appears on CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” also live-tweets, but while he thinks it can help humanize a celebrity, “you also run the risk of losing the magic.”

That was CBS’s concern four years ago when “Survivor” host Jeff Probst announced that he planned to tweet during an episode. Executives worried that Probst would shatter the illusion he was broadcasting live from a remote island.

Several fans tweeted back, saying that while they used to tape the show for later viewing, they would begin tuning in live to “watch” with Probst.

Advertisers love it when viewers find a reason to watch live, eliminating the option of fast-forwarding through commercials.

At the same time, TV programmers need to be cautious about putting too much weight on social-media reaction, said ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee. “You do get a sense of what’s resonating and what’s controversial,” he said, “but it’s more of a reflection of passion from a small group of people.”

ABC’s “666 Park Avenue” was among the most-tweeted new programs this fall. And it’s already been canceled.

Scripps Howard News Service

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