Is Social Media Killing Television or Making it Better?

5 years ago

Spoiler Alert: If you have not yet watched Season 3, Episode 4, of Downton Abbey, do not read on. Seriously, don’t. Or do, but don’t yell at me for ruining it.

On January 27, millions of Americans watched the popular PBS show Downton Abbey and gasped in horror as one of the main characters of the show died. The youngest daughter of the Grantham family, Lady Sybil, gave birth to a baby girl and passed away from eclampsia. Twitter and Facebook started to go crazy with messages of shock, some of them vague, to the effect, “Oh noes, Lady Sybil!” But some were not quite so discreet.

Thanks, overzealous tweeters. Slow clap. Thanks a lot.

Did I mention that Lady Sybil is my favorite character on Downton? And that I am just finishing season one of the show? I didn’t even know Sybil and Branson were married, much less pregnant. I was blissfully unaware of most plot points of the show until the mad flurry of tweets. Now I’m not sure I’ll watch the rest of the episodes.

As this tweeter said:

Now, should I have been on Twitter at all after the episode aired? Should I have muted any references to Downton? No, I shouldn’t have, and yes, I should have. That said, should people be talking about the endings on social media before everyone has gotten a chance to see them, especially in a society of DVRs, when we’re not bound to watch a show at a certain time any longer?

My husband records baseball and football games so he can watch them without all of the commercials and game pauses (forgive my ignorance on anything sports-related), but he rarely watches them without knowing who won, because people won’t shut up about who’s winning and who’s not.

I understand that marketers want us to tweet and Facebook our thoughts on everything to spread word of mouth. Word of mouth praise cannot be replicated in any other way, not for all the billboards in Times Square; it’s marketing gold. I know why there’s a hash tag hanging out in the corner of my screen for every episode of Glee — err, I mean #glee.

Image courtesy ITV

It’s always fun to talk about television with my friends, both online and offline. It takes an activity that can be lonely and turns it into something of a party. As someone who has more friends inside the computer than outside, I get that. As someone who works from home and is a mom of young children, I get that. Social media is a good way for me to be, well, social about media. It fits well into a very busy life where I don’t have time to sit in someone else’s house for two hours on a Sunday night. I can watch the show, chat with my friends on Twitter and clip my toenails at the same time while sitting in my ratty “yoga” pants (FYI, I don’t do yoga) on the edge of the bathtub. That might be the best thing ever.

But I admit to watching less and less television because I have a TiVo, and I only sit down to watch at certain times of the week. I almost always know what’s going to happen in a given episode of any show now because of all the chatter in Twitter and Facebook.

I just watched Mary and Matthew kiss for the first time (remember, Season One watcher here!), and I wanted to flap my arms around like an excited Muppet and discuss it, even if it is old news. Talking about television shows and movies IS fun, and these things are meant to be social. That’s why people go to the movies together and talk afterwards. That’s why people have book clubs.

Still, if I’d joined a book club and a member told me the entire trajectory of Gone Girl before I’d finished the first fifty pages, I’d put the book down and stop reading, but not before being justifiably angry. Stop peeing my Corn Flakes with spoilers; that’s rude. Is it so different with television and social media?

Do you think social media is ruining television or making it better?

Reading (and chickens)



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