Twitter: Please Tweet While You Watch TV

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November 10, 2010--NewTeeVee Conference, San Francisco--A Twitter executive speaking here today says more and more people are using Twitter to add a social and community element to boring old TV-watching.

The Web TV industry has been talking for years about such an experience, and some companies have tried to build chat into their web TV services, but Twitter says its service makes "community viewing" possible now-no assembly required.

The statistics seem to be on Twitter's side on this one. A study recently found that a surprising number-60 percent--of people routinely watch the tube while also surfing the web on their laptop.

Twitter also points to Nielson ratings, which show that tweet traffic on the East Coast spikes every time an episode of Dancing with the Stars came on TV. Twitter's Robin Sloan says this phenomenon can work two ways: The airing of a popular show can spark waves of tweets, but the viewership of those shows also seems to increase as more and more people tweet about it.

Sloan says some shows are more "tweetable" than others. To be tweet-worthy on a large scale, the show needs to have "liveliness, uncertain outcome, and a wide national audience.

Sloan identifies three main modes of social viewing with Twitter.

1. Synchronous show tweeting, in which individual tweeters provide running commentary MST3000-style to their followers on Twitter.

2. Social Viewing, in which a community of Twitter users' tweets are displayed together (grouped by hash tag) so that a running group-conversation is created.

3. User involvement, in which the tweets actually become content in the show. Sloan says MTV is far and away the master of this model. He points to MTV's programming around its TwitterTracker site, which tracks how many people are tweeting in confidential votes for Video Music Awards contenders such as Kanye West, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift.

Just before the Awards, MTV sets up a huge stage outside the Nokia Theater where the awards are held. The stage is backed by a huge video monitor showing a (very wide) version of the TwitterTrack site, with the tweet totals of the music celebs tallying in real time on the screen. In front of the screen, a young MC moves about doing commentary and exhorts viewers to "Keep Tweeting!" The scene looks like some wild hybrid of a telethon, live election night coverage, and a live praise-in at a mega-church.

It's amazing--a whole new bi-directional medium.

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