What Do TV-Social Media Multitaskers Talk About?

More concerned with themselves than with the content

It is only March, but 2011 will go down as the year that TV networks experimented in earnest with social media around their programming. During Super Bowl XLV on February 6, Twitter users set a new record by sending 4,064 messages each second, the highest number per second for a sporting event, according to The New York Times. By the time the Academy Awards aired in early March, ABC had launched a mobile app and website that let internet users watch and comment on behind-the-scenes video streams and backstage celebrations.

While those annual live-TV events inspired a great deal of passion among some viewers, broadcast and cable networks are turning their sights on the buzz generated before, during and after their regular weekly programming. Teens and young adults under age 28 are the most likely to discuss TV shows and other forms of internet and general entertainment with friends and family, according to Deloitte’s “State of the Media Democracy: Game Changing” report.

Top 10 Media Content Types that US Internet Users Discuss with Their Friends, Family and Workplace Colleagues, by Generation, Oct 2010 (% of respondents)

The report also found that 42% of respondents said they sometimes surfed the web while watching TV and 26% sometimes sent texts or instant messages. But what are they talking about online while TV watching?

Another survey, presented by social media agency Room 214 and social media tracker Crimson Hexagon, titled “Digital Shifts: How New Media Is Changing TV,” found that most chatter on Facebook during TV viewing related to a statement of fact (52%), such as “I’m watching [TV show title here].” Another 22% shared additional information about their current states, such as where they were watching the show, who they were with, or listing all their activities throughout the day. Just 19% were starting conversations about the show itself, and 7% were announcing they were either bored or in bed—or both.

Types of Updates Posted by Facebook Users Worldwide While Watching TV, Jan 2011 (% of total)

Among Twitter users, there was little discussion of the actual content of the TV show, but lots of self-conscious referencing of the fact that they were on Twitter. Higher percentages of people tracked reported they were either eating, bored, or in bed and getting ready to sleep. Users were more focused on what they were doing in addition to watching TV, not what they were watching at the moment.

Types of Tweets Made by Twitter Users Worldwide While Watching TV, Jan 2011 (% of total)

Some conclusions drawn by the report’s authors: Facebook encourages more conversation while Twitter serves more as a broadcast medium. Also, the type of TV show—reality, drama or comedy—influenced the choice of discussion forum. With dramas and comedies, viewers talked about specific characters on a show, or frequent guest stars. Much of the discussion surrounding reality shows centered on the viewer’s confessions of “guilty pleasure” or “hate” regarding the content of or characters in the show. But they still continued to watch.


The study did not report how many of these TV watchers’ comments or tweets were answered by friends or followers. It’s possible their observations—banal as most seemed—disappeared into a social-media vacuum. Marketers seeking to inspire real discussions about their TV efforts will get genuine attention only during annual live-TV events like the Super Bowl. The rest of the year, multitaskers are more interested in themselves.