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For a while now, there’s been chatter about the decline in TV viewership, both for network and cable, particularly among those ages 18 to 49. Studies show that the rise of Internet and mobile device usage are driving forces behind the decline. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The same things that drove the decline could become TV’s salvation.

With more of us using social media than ever before – and the numbers continuing to rise – savvy networks and advertisers are looking for ways to use the power of social to boost viewership and ratings.

Social media marketing is already apparently having an effect on what we choose to watch. A February 2012 survey by TVGuide.com found that 17% of respondents chose to start watching a show and 31% continued to watch a show based on what their social networks said.

Social media is also bringing back the idea of communal TV viewing but with a modern twist. Through social networks and mobile devices, viewers can share the experience of watching their favorite shows with friends and family, even if they aren’t in the same room.

Talking about shows online as they happen turns programs into events. “In a sense, you are in the living room, watching together,” said Jeff Probst, the host of “Survivor,” who has used Twitter to talk with fans while the show is on-air.

Now that TV has gone digital, networks know that it’s easier than ever to share snippets of what you watch. It’s becoming common for networks to create preshow buzz generators like video clips and mini-games that are designed for sharing, especially among trendsetters and the in-the-know crowd.

A recent Nielsen survey found a close relationship between social media-generated buzz and TV ratings, particularly among those ages 18 to 34.

As always, the bottom line is ratings.

Why Two Screens Are Better Than One 

A 2010 Nielsen report found that 59% of Americans watched television while surfing the Internet at least once a month. With dual-screen entertainment becoming more common, it’s a no-brainer for the television industry to look for ways to use social media to enhance or drive viewership.

Social TV could include subscribing to an “event” that’s affiliated with a TV program, using specially developed apps, or displaying Twitter hashtags or other social media tie-ins during the program. Some examples of ways that networks are integrating social media and programming include:
  • CBS’s Tweet Week, which allows fans to talk with show talent and staff via Twitter. 
  • USA Network’s Character Chatter encourages users to join social media conversations about their favorite shows and characters. 
  • Project Runway launched the Fan Favorite campaign, which assigned each designer a unique hashtag and allowed fans to vote via Twitter for their favorite, who would win $10,000.
  • The Discovery Channel has a series of apps for the network as well as its specific programs with trivia, games and supplemental material.

The Future of TV

With today’s socially connected, Web-surfing audience, the future of TV may very well depend on its ability to continue to engage and entertain viewers in creative and innovative ways. Television has traditionally been a passive medium but social media gives it the ability to develop into a real-time interactive experience.

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