A Changing Game
Netflix is pretty awesome right. A person can stream hundreds of hours of content, however how can someone possibly chose something to watch when there are thousands of choices, especially when there are no commercials or advertisements for other shows on Netflix or most other streaming sites, legal and illegal? As more television content shifts into a digital on-demand environment the role of fans, fandoms, and social media in promoting a show will grow greatly. Let us see what this necessarily entails.
To start things off clearly let us define some of the terms we will use. For the purpose of this writing the term fan will refer to an invested viewer of a program or text while fandom will refer to the collective works of fans in reference to a common show or text. A person or people can be fans but a piece of art or writing that involves characters or aspects of a text but is not created by the owners of that text is fandom. This will be important later when we discuss what can influence a person to become a viewer.
(Some fandoms on Tumblr)
Now to the actual point, as technology grows internet access is becoming faster and nearly universal in many countries, the
States included. As this happens more and
more technologically savvy people are either abandoning cable and satellite
providers or never bothering to get one because they can simply find everything
they want online (Forbes, 2013). While this is still a small minority, it hints
at a larger trend. That as technology grows that allows people to watch shows
at their own leisure, without having to tune in at a certain time or sit
through commercials, they will us it. And chances are, since there are no signs
of the technological growth stopping, that the trend of cable cutting will only
But how are other forms of technology, namely social media, factoring into this discussion? Well it is fairly well accepted that word of mouth advertising is one of the most effective forms of advertising (O’Conner, 2012). Basically that hearing a recommendation for something from a friend is much more likely to make a person use/buy/watch that thing. This is largely where fans can come in and, by talking about the show, become major influences on people. However the growth and proliferation of social media has blurred the lines somewhat when it comes to what constitutes a friend. While we are not here to discuss whether virtual acquaintances are friends or not, it can still be assumed that they can still exude more influence on a person then most traditional advertising on the fact that they are likely not getting paid for their endorsement and thus their opinion is considered more trustworthy. And as we should be well aware, social media is just about everywhere and almost everyone has some form of it. With this being established it can safely be assumed that social media, because of its ability to spread the opinions of many fans, can be a significant factor in whether or not a person watches or even hears about a show. A person using social media and hearing from a multitude of people about a show can easy make a person interested enough to watch it. Fandom is similar in the way it can influence people but with some slightly different subtleties. Namely that it isn’t a person talking but rather a manifestation of a fans love of the show. So while it is not a direct endorsement of the show, it can speak to the power of the show to inspire and excite people and that can definitely influence someone to at least check out a show. Now with social media fan works can be spread incredibly easily and seen by a much wider audience (Sivarajan, 2010).
(Example of someone with a lot of social media friends)
At this point it is important to explore some of the counter arguments. Namely that fans and fandom won’t become more important in spreading a show because many sites have recommendation programs that will push shows instead. The main whole in this counter argument is that people can like a wide variety of shows, some of which may seem contradictory. The recommendation programs will likely only recommend tiles that are similar to the one watched in genre which can be a very artificial connection. An example of this can be seen in the plot similarities between Showtime’s television series Weeds and
smash hit Breaking Bad. Both feature people deciding to start selling illegal
drugs in order to help support their families only to have their respective
lives spiral out of control but each is completely different in terms of tone
and character development. However another way for a recommendation program to
work is to base it off of other people’s watching habits, namely that a large
number of people seemed to watch both shows within a relatively short amount of
time leading the program to believe that there is a good chance that if someone
watched and liked one that they would enjoy the other. If this is the case
however, it could be argued that this program has been shaped by the fans of
the show and has thus become a work of the fandom. So even though it may not
seem like fans are involved when a computer makes a recommendation, there is a
very good chance it is simply acting on the data given to it by the watching
habits of the fans.
(A good example of fan work fro the Breaking Bad fandom)
Before moving into the conclusion, I feel that some more examples of fans and fandoms helping to spread a show should be given. Namely I would like to mention the classic cut-to-soon series of Firefly. Firefly aired on Fox in September of 2002 and thanks to the networks mishandling only lasted one season ending in December consisting of 14 episodes. However, in that short time the show gained an incredibly strong fanbase. So strong in fact that even though the show was cut after only one season it got a movie tie-in in 2005 called Serenity, three years after it was cancelled. Even to this day the number of fans is growing and the show has become a must watch for anyone interested in the sci-fi genre. This demonstrates just how powerful a force fans can be in affecting a shows longevity and popularity, and that was almost ten years ago when social media wasn’t nearly as big as it is now. Imagine how much influence fans and fandoms could have in the near future (Browncoats.com).
In the end it is clear that as television content moves in a more digital on demand environment that fans, fandoms, and social media will play a big role in affecting the show’s popularity and longevity. This can be seen already in past examples of shows being kept alive and relevant do to a devoted fanbase, such as firefly, and in the technological trends that are emerging of people going over networks heads and simply finding what they want online. Clearly fans and fandoms already have some power to influence their selective mediums, but as we push forward into a new age of content delivery they will be the ones on the bleeding edge pushing shows in new ways never before explored. They will boldly go where no one has gone before.
O'conner, Shawn. "Word of Mouth is the Best Ad." Business Week. n.d. n. page. Web.
28 Feb. 2014.
Sivarajan, Deepa. "Tlön, fandom, and source text: The effect of fan works on the narrative of Supernatural."Transformative Works and Cultures. 2010: n. page. Web.
28 Feb. 2014.
Magid, Larry. "Households Abandoning Cable and Satellite for Streaming." Forbes. 19 3 2013: n. page. Web.
28 Feb. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrymagid/2013/03/19/households-abandoning-cable-and-satellite-for-streaming/>.
"Welcome." Browncoats. N.p.. Web.