If you count yourself in the sizable television audience that takes guilty pleasure in such programming as Teen Wolf, Jersey Shore and Snooki & JWOWW, it’s likely that you grew up on MADE.
MTV’s long-running soapy reality series is now well into its 12th season. This time, the rotating characters aren’t the only ones getting made over; the show is seeing some major changes, too.
Viewers will note the MADE makeover as soon as they spot it on the TV schedule: MADE #DreamBigger. That’s right — there’s a hashtag right there in the title of the program. MTV is making a heavy-handed play for relevancy, trying to drive their viewers to Twitter to generate social media buzz.
The show is graduating from breakdancer and prom-queen hopefuls of the high school set, focusing its efforts on college students and post-grads. And while an MTV spokeswoman told Variety that the name alteration is meant to reflect creative and structural changes to the program itself, it’s hard not to see the new hashtag as a move for increased Twitter engagement.
Perhaps it was inevitable that a network would opt to cut out the middle man. After all, it has long strived to integrate social media elements into the viewing experience. But this is the first time that a show has so plainly featured the hashtag right there in the title (it’s standard that hashtags associated with a show reserve a small spot in the lower third of the screen).
It remains to be seen whether or not this strategy will have any impact on the show’s viewership; after all, MADE lost any buzz appeal long before #DreamBigger entered the picture. What it does indicate, though, is that social television is becoming an increasingly crucial element of the media landscape.
Television is no longer just an activity — it’s a shared experience. The advent of social viewership has yielded viewing communities that are exponentially larger than the ones we saw even 10 years ago. In fact, those communities couldn’t span much farther than your living room or the water cooler at work. Now, viewers are talking about television around the world.
While MTV might be trying to lure in more plugged-in college students, networks such as ABC Family have already proven popular with the demographic. That’s because they’ve been early pioneers of social television, and groundbreaking ones at that.
First, ABC Family’s programming lends itself to conversation — viewers are seemingly more likely to tweet opinions about scandalous pregnant teen-love trysts on The Secret Life of the American Teenager than one girl’s transformation into a professional makeup artist on MADE.
The channel drives conversation by hosting “tweet parties,” by which fans can tweet questions to producers and actors. ABC Family also encourages viewers to check in on GetGlue.com, an entertainment-based social network where viewers can discuss their favorite shows while they’re watching them.
The shift is paying off big — the second season finale of what is arguably ABC Family’s crown jewel, Pretty Little Liars, generated the most social media buzz of any regularly scheduled series in television history when it aired in March.
This wasn’t just a major moment for television; it was a major moment for Twitter. Fans sent a colossal 645,000 tweets during the first broadcast, reaching a peak of 32,000 tweets per minute. Over the course of the day, 1.6 million tweets were sent about the show, with some 50 trending topics just related to the show.
Trends like this are game changers in the media industry. While broadcast networks have long held power in numbers, cable networks are creeping in on their viewership by creating niche communities that are active online.
For example, with programs like Gossip Girl and 90210, The CW has previously reigned supreme on the TiVos of college-aged girls everywhere. But the network has done little to capitalize on millennial culture on the Web, and it seems that now Gossip Girl is just about the only one left buzzing about Blair Waldorf.
Social television is creating event television, and it’s causing a noteworthy reversal in the scheme of TV. In recent years, viewers have been dissuaded to watch shows at the time of broadcast as a result of the ultimate creature comfort, DVR. But now, there’s a reason to sit through the commercials — you want to be a part of the conversation as it’s happening.
The jury’s still out on whether or not a hashtagged title will get viewers buzzing over the ups and downs of an aspiring circus aerialist (just one character we can look forward to this season on MADE). But one thing seems certain: This is just the beginning.
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