As a medium, television rarely strays from adaptation. Using short stories, novels, films and even other TV-shows as source material has yielded both wild successes (see Dexter) and clear disappointments (see The Firm). Today though there is a new source jostling to become the primary influencer. That source is the social web.
Typically, social is seen as a way of gaging the influence of a show, rather than being an influencer in its own right. This may be an effective way of quantifying buzz, but it does not utilize the full potential of the social web. Social has the ability to be preemptive as well as reactionary. With it, we allow the audience into the creative processes that precede a show’s conception.
In fact, a popular Twitter handle was responsible for both the title and premise of CBS’s sitcom Shit My Dad Says featuring William Shatner. Although it only lasted one season – illustrating that the appropriation of social data should not be indiscriminate – it is indicative of a coming trend. FOX recently passed on a pilot adapting Texts From Last Night, the blog Stuff White People Like almost came to the small screen, Ryan Seacrest’s production company recently acquired the rights to produce the application Draw Something as a show and Cartoon Network is adapting the popular Youtube series Annoying Orange.
Just as with more traditional source material, it is clear that not all of social is ready for the primetime. But done right, it can be utilized to guarantee a higher viewership at premiere and construct stories that will resonate better with target audiences. A lot of the question marks that accompany a new television show, from choosing the right actors to gauging viewer interests, start to fade as social removes the barrier between creator and audience.
With the abundance of real-time viewer data that the social web provides, production companies have access to the largest, least-biased focus group on the planet. They can manage the assets created by the social web (like The Annoying Orange), analyze their value, optimize their investment in them and forecast future trends. Using the data models created by real-time analytics, producers can now finally be in sync with their viewers throughout the life cycle of a show.
So, like it or not, the social web will be constantly changing the shows we watch on television. We can only hope that as analysis becomes more nuanced and social outlets more ubiquitous, the resulting shows are ones we can all enjoy.