Amongst the most prominent uses of Twitter at present is its role in the discussion of widely televised events: Twitter's own statistics for 2011, for example, list major entertainment spectacles (the MTV Music Awards, the BET Awards) and sports matches (the UEFA Champions League final, the FIFA Women's World Cup final) amongst the events generating the most tweets per second during the year (Twitter, 2011). User activities during such televised events constitute a specific, unique category of Twitter use, which differs clearly from the other major events which generate a high rate of tweets per second (such as crises and breaking news, from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami to the death of Steve Jobs), as preliminary research has shown (Bruns & Highfield, 2011): while during breaking news events, Twitter activity is focussed in the first place on finding and sharing the latest updates as they become available from relevant sources, and results in widespread posting and retweeting of tweets containing URLs, such gatewatching (Bruns, 2005) is unnecessary in the case of already widely televised, long foreseen media events.
During such major media events, by contrast, Twitter is used most predominantly as a technology of fandom instead: it serves in the first place as a backchannel to television and other streaming audiovisual media, enabling users offer their own running commentary on the universally shared media text of the event broadcast as it unfolds live. Centrally, this communion of fans around the shared text is facilitated by the use of Twitter hashtags – unifying textual markers which are now often promoted to prospective audiences by the broadcasters well in advance of the live event itself. While the adoption of such hashtags is not guaranteed (some users may prefer their comments to reach the more limited audience of their Twitter follower network only, for example), and rival hashtags may exist for major events (reflecting competition between different broadcasters or enabling the gathering of fans tweeting in specific languages, for instance), a handful of leading hashtags usually emerge nonetheless.
This paper examines the use of Twitter as a technology for the expression of shared fandom in the context of two major, internationally televised annual media events in Europe and the U.S.: the Academy Awards and the Eurovision Song Contest. Both constitute highly publicised, highly choreographed media spectacles whose eventual outcomes are unknown ahead of time (with the obvious difference that the Oscars results are determined by an expert jury before the event, those of Eurovision by popular telephone or Internet voting on the night), and both attract a diverse international audience. Our analysis draws on comprehensive datasets for the ‘official' event hashtags, #oscars and #eurovision, and presents comparative results for 2011 and 2012 which are also able to show the evolution of Twitter as a fandom technology in both cases.
Using innovative methods which combine qualitative and quantitative approaches to the analysis of Twitter datasets containing several hundreds of thousands of tweets for each case in each year, we examine overall patterns of participation to discover how audiences express their fandom throughout each media event. Minute-by-minute tracking of Twitter activity during the live broadcasts will enable us to identify the most resonant moments during each event. We also examine the networks of interaction between participants to detect thematically or geographically determined clusters of interaction, and to identify the most visible and influential participants in each network. Year-on-year comparisons for each event will reveal how Twitter as a technology, and user activities drawing on its technological affordances, have changed between 2011 and 2012; they will also reveal the extent to which a stable core of highly active fan and official accounts remains engaged from year to year.
Such analysis is able to provide a unique insight into the use of Twitter as a technology for fandom and for what in cultural studies research is called ‘audiencing': the public performance of belonging to the distributed audience for a shared media event. Our work thus contributes to the examination of fandom practices led by Henry Jenkins (2006) and other scholars, and points to Twitter as an important new medium facilitating the connection and communion of such fans.
Bruns, Axel. (2005) Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production. New York: Peter Lang.
———, and Tim Highfield. (2012) “Blogs, Twitter, and Breaking News: The Produsage of Citizen Journalism.” Produsing Theory: The intersection of Audiences and Production in a Digital World, ed. Rebecca Ann Lind. New York: Peter Lang.
Jenkins, Henry. (2006) Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: NYU Press.
Twitter. (2011) "Year in Review: Tweets per Second." http://yearinreview.twitter.com/en/tps.html (accessed 26 Feb. 2012).