Remember a few years back, when there were only five channels (or fewer)?
Before the explosion of satellite and digital TV, the main Christmas Day TV event would unite households the country over. Whether it was Morecambe and Wise, Only Fools or The Royle Family, or even (spit) EastEnders, up to 20 million would all tune in at once and these Christmas specials would be among the main Boxing Day talking points.
In latter years this dissipated as more and more people were able to access infinitely more channels, and the Sky Plus facility made it even easier for viewers to record and save multiple programmes to watch whenever they wanted. The ‘TV event’ was certainly losing its impact as the millennium came and went.
However, the advent of social media, far from fragmenting viewing habits yet further, is helping bring viewers back together. Many TV series now actively encourage live interaction through Twitter hashtags, so one really has to be watching a programme live when it goes out for this to have any meaning. Viewers, especially the under-35s, now sit in front of their TVs, phones in hand, watching not only the show but also their mobiles for any comments and updates. The X Factor is a prime example of how this works, and, at any given time on Twitter, especially in the evenings, there are likely to be at least two or three TV-related items trending in the UK.
So this Christmas, when the main specials air on what we used to call ‘terrestrial’ television, tweeps and Facebookers will not want to miss out. There’s no point tweeting about a major programme two hours after it’s been on. And even if you are not really bothered about airing your opinions about a show, if you haven’t yet seen it, you will have to go to some lengths to avoid Facebook and Twitter if you don’t want to find out what happened.
It’s rather ironic how the immediacy of social networking is bringing about a return to a more traditional way of viewing. There may be 1,001 ways to watch your favourite TV programme nowadays, but if you want to feel truly part of it, as in years past, then the only way is to watch it when it’s first broadcast.