- A silly-sounding buzz phrase that makes me roll my eyes.
- An actual thing where people watch a television show and discuss it live on social media.
Yeah, a phrase like “social television” makes me throw up a little in my mouth. And yet social TV is a huge piece of what makes series like Downton Abbey, Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy so enjoyable. The ability to watch a show at the same time as millions of other people and react with them immediately? It is amazing and a joy brought exclusively by the internet.
So it is fascinating that internet-only shows, like Netflix’s House of Cards, fall flat when it comes to social television. Its greatest strength — the internet — also becomes its greatest weakness.
Downton Abbey and Social TV
For the first time this third season of Downton Abbey, I watched an episode with the rest of the United States. Before the season finale, I had viewed every episode online about a day after it originally aired on the BBC. Me and a friend would find a way to download and watch Downton together in my living room. I knew there were others out there like me, but we never talked. Never Tweeted. Never shared our thoughts on Facebook. Secret cheaters, happy for the instant gratification and laughing at the poor saps who were waiting. I did this through Downton’s regular season all the way up to the “Christmas Special,” which I never watched.
Then a few months later, [spoiler alert] Sybil died again, only this time in the United States. My Twitter stream Blew. Up. Tears and hashtags galore. I was taken aback: I had not been as moved by Sybil’s death when I watched on my own (I’ll admit some moist eyes and that’s it!), but I also missed out on getting a chance to actually talk about it with everyone! #FinallyInteresting #ReallyThatSad? #ByeByeSybil
Then last night, as I was back on schedule with the United States, I learned about [spoiler alert] Matthew. As blood trickled from his ear, my first reaction was to grab my phone to see what everyone was saying, and to add my own thoughts.
Virtual Water Cooler?
As disappointed as I was in the Downton Abbey season finale, the ability to immediately share that with my friends was extremely gratifying. Would my feelings on the season finale be different had I had this social viewing before tonight? Makes me think back even further to a show like LOST. I don’t think social TV was as much of “a thing” back then. But I definitely had a group of friends around the country that I went through the same experiences with each week: watch the show, throw things at the TV, email our theories until the next episode. As I grew frustrated with the show, what kept me going was probably 50% wanting to know how it all would finally end (#LetDown) and 50% not wanting to lose that group.
And this social aspect is exactly what is missing from shows like Netflix’s House of Cards.
#PeterRusso! #Peachoid! #ZoeBarnesFilthyApartment!
These are all hashtags that should have run through my Twitter feed, but they never did. Instead, I watched all 13 episodes in solitude and occasionally saw others mention doing the same. It is a similar feeling to being a secret Downton cheat. “Oh, you’re watching that too? Well, we’ll talk about it when everyone catches up.” Only that moment when you know everyone is on the same page never arrives!
We need to invent new communication systems, where only people who have made it through Episode X can discuss with others who have made it exactly that far.
~ David Winer wanting to discuss House of Cards online.
So is internet TV like House of Cards doomed? #Duh. Of course not. But if Netflix really wants people watching these internet-only shows now, someone is going to have to figure out how to talk about it on the internet right as your watching it on the internet.
What do you think? Do you miss the live action online communication while watching shows like House of Cards, or am I completely crazy? Tell me in the comments!