Cases in point: I tried my best to enjoy the mini-concerts by Tim McGraw and Lady Antebellum in May on NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” respectively, but as always the torrent of tweets flashing across the bottom of the screen (where they compete with news crawls and network/program logos) compromised my complete appreciation of both.
This is not the most pressing problem the television business is currently facing. I doubt that many executives in the business even identify it as a problem. They probably think of it as a way to grow their audiences. In fact, they must think of it in those terms -- because why else would they encourage it or even allow it?
But as a viewer I don’t like it. And if I were an advertising executive I wouldn’t be so crazy about it either, because anything that competes for a viewer’s attention during a show is a potential distraction from anything seen during or remembered after that show -- including commercials.
I’m all for tweeting while watching television if that is what someone is moved to do. (Indeed, Twitter has made watching awards shows tolerable again.) But I think that tweets belong on Twitter rather than on TV. I simply cannot see the point of networks displaying them during a program of any kind. Tweets have been invading the television space for a quite a while now, and yet to this day (and as of this morning) every time I see one on my screen I recoil a little.
The ongoing annoyance here is that the tweets seem utterly pointless from every perspective. They are generally off-the-cuff, lightweight comments that might strike some people as insipid. They don’t inform or educate or in any way enhance the viewing experience. Also, they tell us nothing about the tweeter, except that he or she likes someone or something. The viewer doesn’t even know who the tweeter is.
Even those annoying news crawls at the bottom of the TV screen -- which served an important purpose when they began in the weeks following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but are of use now only during major breaking local and national news -- at least educate/inform the audience and encourage viewers not to change the channel and perhaps even to watch whatever local news programming that channel may offer.
But those tweets -- which pop up primarily during live television news and reality competition shows -- are just empty clutter. I’m sure the few tweeters whose tweets appear on TV are thrilled for a few seconds, but then what? I’ll bet most of them don’t stick around and watch more of the show, or watch the show again the following day, if they weren’t already regular viewers of the show. Meantime, it’s the regular viewers who are made to suffer perpetual distractions.
This really hit home for me during the third hour of “Today,” which happened to be on as background noise only, as it is not an hour of television I can make myself watch with any regularity even for professional purposes. Most times when a singer appears live during the second hour of “Today,” performing two or three songs (and prompting all those tweets), an additional song is taped but held until later in the 9 a.m. hour to encourage viewers to stick around (or to provide added entertainment to those folks who inexplicably tune in to savor the third hour only). The additional performance plays as if it is live, but it is not. The giveaway is that it plays without any tweets.
So there was another performance by McGraw -- blissfully without any irritation from Twitter. It felt like pure TV, even with the news crawl at the bottom that over the years has become very easy to ignore, which pretty much defeats the purpose of the crawl, doesn’t it?
Once upon a time, if someone had his or her thoughts or jokes appear on a television screen it was because that person had put some time into his or her message. A full name, often with the person’s home town and state, would be seen. Last names rarely appear any more, not even at the end of Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News when he reads excerpts of letters from readers. But even the comments O’Reilly chooses to read make substantial points, whether one agrees with them or not, and they are offered in some kind of context beyond “#lovingTodaytoday” or “drinking my coffee and watching @LadyA on #GMA!”
Will these tiresome tweets ever go away? I doubt it -- because they wouldn’t be there if people of some influence in news and entertainment television didn’t think they were important in the first place. What’s next … tweetdecks on TV?