I couldn't agree more. As if pop-up promotional graphics and network logos and on-screen reminders telling the viewer what he or she is watching weren't enough, now broadcast and basic cable networks alike are further cluttering their screens with tweets and Facebook messages from individuals who are not even identified by their real names. These messages, of course, are always supportive of whatever is happening on the TV screen. They are also perfectly pointless, coming from anonymous individuals who may even be friends and family members of people working on the show. (Apparently networks think viewers are too stupid to realize this.) Even if they are not from interested parties, they are still completely meaningless because they have no context or framework whatsoever. They are simply plucked from the social media ether to interfere with the act of viewing television.
To say social media messages on TV are distracting is to put it mildly. On more than one occasion this season I have turned off ABC's “Dancing with the Stars” simply to get away from such stuff. Why should I care what a few individuals scattered around the country about whom I know absolutely nothing have to say about a particular participant on that show, or any other? If I want to see what's “trending” (a word that has become almost as annoying as on-screen social media messages) I'll look on Twitter and find out for myself. (Doing so almost always reveals that just as many people are hating a show as loving it.)
Twitter can certainly enhance the television viewing experience. (I don't think I ever enjoyed watching the Emmy Awards more than I did this year, tweeting and retweeting throughout the show. It really did feel like I was watching the Emmys with dozens of my colleagues from the Television Critics Association.) But plastering the television screen with tweets only compromises it.
Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and everyone is entitled to respectfully present them on the social media platforms of their choosing. But every time I see social media messages cluttering up my screen during an entertainment program, I find myself thinking exactly what the Horowitz Associates findings seem to suggest: This is yet another desperate effort on the part of television networks to lure young viewers away from other things, and it's not working very well. As Friedman's story pointed out, it seems young viewers know when they are being pandered to, and many are put off by it.
Meanwhile, I don't think viewers who aren't “young” care for it at all.
TV's social media cluster-frak is irritating when it compromises the enjoyment of an entertainment program. It is downright inappropriate when news programs on broadcast and cable networks use it as a way to pump up whatever they may be reporting or commenting on. Social media messages are custom-made for such manipulation, and it behooves responsible television news outlets to not rely on them either to flesh out a so-called news story or use them to disingenuously suggest that influential media observers have somehow singled out whatever they are doing as among the media's best.
The next time network executives indulge in prolonged bouts of navel-gazing -- the intent of which is to try and
figure out why so many of them attract such small audiences and then have trouble keeping those viewers around -- I suggest they go home at night and attempt to relax with their own programming. The
perpetual bombardment of on-screen distractions as unintended viewer repellent might be revelatory. What's next? I hesitate to ask.
"Social Media" photo from Shutterstock.