Can Live TV Be Altered By Real-Time Viewer Feedback?

CBS took some shots via the Twitterverse over the weekend during its broadcast of the Kansas vs. Stanford NCAA Basketball game for repeatedly cutting to a shot of a distraught young Kansas fan watching his team lose. Many on Twitter had something to say about the shots, eventually turning #cryingkansaskid into a trend.

I watched the game live, and did notice CBS cutting to the same fan more than one would expect, so I took to Twitter to see what others were saying about it. It didn’t take long to see the Internet lynch mob form in defense of the young fan, but what interested me most was the order in which events occurred.

It was clear that the majority of people voicing their opinion on Twitter were dissatisfied with CBS’ decision to keep showing the same fan. However, even once this was evident, CBS showed the fan in future sequences. Could the network have reacted to the live Twitter feed and altered their live broadcast?

While the tweets could make it seem like everyone was against CBS, that’s not necessarily the case. A USA Today Sports poll asking readers whether or not it is wrong to show a crying kid on television at press time had 2,373 votes for “yes, it’s insensitive” and more than twice as many (5,484) saying “no, it’s part of the game.” CBS was not immediately available for comment.

The purpose of this post is not to question the morality of this specific event. Rather, it made me curious how (or if) live broadcasts could (or should) be impacted by real-time feedback. And I’m not talking about showing tweets on the bottom of the screen as they come in, or even live poll results with neat graphics. I’m talking about information straight from the tweeter’s thumbs to the producer’s ears -- with maybe a person or two in between to pass along said information.

David Hurwitz, best known as the executive producer of NBC’s "Fear Factor," and most recently as executive producer of NBC’s "The Million Second Quiz," spoke with RTM Daily about the matter.

Hurwitz is not associated with CBS and simply provided some food for thought from a producer’s point of view. And while "Fear Factor" was not a live event, "The Million Second Quiz was," so he has experience on what it’s like to be a producer in the heat of the moment.

“Live sports directors have shut the door to what’s going on outside the arena,” Hurwitz said. “They are locked and loaded. Whoever’s in the truck producing is making the decision, likely thinking, ‘This kid represents what we all were as 10-year-old fans.” He reckons that inside the truck “they are just going with what’s in the moment.”

As the producers are “shut inside,” as Hurwitz said, the only way they could have adjusted to live feedback was if they were monitoring it. “it’s just about access,” he said. “If that structure isn’t set up, they won’t know.”

Hurwitz doesn’t question anything CBS did during the game -- he didn’t even see the event live -- but acknowledged it opened his eyes to the consumer’s voice.

“It shows us that the viewers have an immediate voice,” he said. “It makes us all, as producers, realize it’s there.”

Hurwitz believes the real question is: Should the systems be in place to listen and react where necessary to viewer outcry?

To some degree it’s a matter of scale. Hurwitz said there are certain shows -- a Sunday afternoon broadcast of a “March Madness” game included -- where the producers aren’t bothered “unless a missile is coming.” He said the only call they will get “is from above.”

The other question is also a matter of scale. “How many viewers ripped them?” Hurwitz challenged. “That’s the problem in this day and age. How many tweets were negative, and what’s that percentage compared to the millions watching? It’s likely a drop in the bucket.”

The event has raised an interest set of questions: Can TV broadcasts be altered by live viewer feedback? Should they? Networks can’t afford to give credence to every negative tweet they see, but such immediate feedback has not been available before.

TV-related tweets lead to more people tuning in. The next question is whether or not TV-related tweets can change what’s on TV.

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2 comments about "Can Live TV Be Altered By Real-Time Viewer Feedback?".
  1. tim glomb from Wayin , March 25, 2014 at 3:04 p.m.
    This is happening everyday on broadcasts around the globe. The tools exist to identify, very quickly and easily, sub-conversations on Twitter relevant to the broadcast subject matter. From one simple dashboard you can instantly find the positive and negative conversations, determine it's velocity and mass, then react accordingly. It's called Wayin Broadcast and come see it LIVE at NAB Booth SL15508.
  2. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2013ac.com network , March 25, 2014 at 5:19 p.m.
    Since when did social media users become the voice of the average viewer? They are a niche audience and should have less impact than choosing to only listen to those with red hair and blue eyes when making program decisions. Less so, since the red hair and blue eyes group would at least show more of a cross-section of viewer tastes. Those who Tweet while watching a show are, honestly speaking, odd-balls in the overall scheme of things. They are, as the term implies, "socializing" rather than offering accurate personal opinions about what they are seeing. This opinion can be easily tested by asking the Tweeters afterwards if they meant what they Tweeted. I'll bet many will say no, and that they were just going along with the social flow.