Television, Twitter and the irresistible rise of media stacking

As one of the millions of people in Britain who spend their working days staring at the artificial light of a flickering computer screen, I know as well as anyone how liberating it is to come home at the end of a long day and…. spend the evening staring at the artificial light of a flickering computer screen.

Welcome to the world of media multi-tasking, of tweets and TV, of soaps and surfing.

A study into the nation’s viewing habits has revealed that more than three quarters of us are clearly hopeless tech junkies, keeping one eye on our favourite shows while browsing the web, chatting away on social media and checking our smartphones for the latest update from the virtual world.

This relatively new phenomenon has acquired the name ‘media stacking’ – which to me sounds like the concept of putting your VCR on top of the telly – and it’s increasingly shaping the way we consume media of all kinds.

For me the most enjoyable development in this endlessly-connected world has been the impact of Twitter on television viewing habits and the way in which social media has restored the concept of event TV.

As the television landscape fragmented into hundreds of channels beaming ever more niche programming into our homes via a box in every room, the concept of half the country sitting down at the same time to hear a band’s new single on Top of the Pops or watch someone getting bumped off in Albert Square became a thing of the past – joining nationwide industrial action, massive unemployment and Tory splits over Europe in the box marked ‘relics of a bygone age’.

But hey, we all know history’s cyclical, right? And sure enough it looks like the watercooler moment, along with some rather less welcome throwbacks, has returned. Although now we don’t have to wait until the next day and the onset of thirst to have a good old natter/bitch/moan about what’s on the box – we simply stick on a hashtag and tweet away.

Now it doesn’t matter how many people are watching that show you just can’t wait to spout off about, it just matters that people are tweeting about it.

The first time I really got wrapped up in this whole tweeting-about-telly business was during the screening of the Channel 4 documentary Coppers. Because the first episode was set in Kent – Chatham pocket, anyone? – I couldn’t help but share a few choice observations about this fair county of ours, and soon I found there were hundreds of other people gabbing away on the subject as well.

Now I love it when a show inspires a bit of Twitter banter, Four Rooms was a recent favourite on this front, and I think our viewing experience is all the more enjoyable for it.

Obviously there are some programmes you can’t really enhance by media stacking – University Challenge is, well, challenging enough without chasing the lolz while trying (and failing) to answer questions about particle physics – but I love the fact that now you can watch TV while trading observations and quips with a cast of thousands.

So, if you actually managed to make it this far without finding something more interesting in the darker recesses of your Sky planner, which TV shows do you enjoy communally via social media? Answers in the comments please, or tweet me @rhysdgriffiths.

Follow rhysdgriffiths on Twitter

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