Tweeting keeps viewers from straying

Mark Burnett saw the potential of live tweets while producing the MTV Awards after Sacha Baron Cohen dropped from a wire, awkwardly-on-purpose, into Eminem’s face.

“There was a Twitter explosion, with people saying ‘You can’t believe what just happened,’?” Burnett says. “People tuned in to see what was going on. And you realize, this is how young America watches television now.”

Reality competition shows in particular have benefited from being part of the swell of social networking and personal interactions with TV series. “American Idol” took the ultimate interactive experience by allowing viewers to decide the winners just by punching a number in their phone. “Survivor” kept its audience interest up through official and unofficial websites, and now live tweets.

“Social media can do everything. It’s critical in launching a new show, critical in getting a community built around your show and critical in getting people to tune into your show,” Burnett, who just launched “The Voice,” says. “If you are dealing with an event, like ‘The Voice,’ versus a scripted TV show, the events need to have social media aspects both around the show and in real time during the show.”

With his singing competition series, Burnett opted to bring the audience directly into the minds of the judges. Live tweets instantly echoed what judges Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and Christina Aguilera — who created a Twitter account just for this series — were thinking.

The observations sparked more social media attention. The immediacy of texts and tweets turns even tape-delayed shows into almost-live events not to be missed.

In its first years, “Survivor” got a boost with websites bringing in spoilers, information and message boards.

“What spurred the success of ‘Survivor’ was that watercooler element, talking about rooting for Rudy, watching Richard (win),” says host Jeff Probst. “It really set the tone for reality television.”

Now Probst’s live tweets during “Survivor” encourage viewers tempted to stray, or record for later, to stick around. He does both an East Coast and West Coast version, answering questions from “Is Philip really an FBI agent?” to clarifying the rules of the game.

“It changes the experience so much,” Probst says. “It’s almost like we all met at the Grove, and they came to my house to watch an episode. People used to say they would DVR the show, now they say they have to watch it live.”

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