Owning conversations: the commercial TV back channel for #xfactor

Twitter’s a funny place. The folk I follow on there are passionate champions of free speech one day, insisting that my local councillor can make racist jokes for example, and the next they’re all “this isn’t the place to talk about popular culture – I will unfollow you if you tweet about xfactor you idiot!”.

Now I don’t really like X Factor much but actually the back channel on Twitter is a bit of a laugh. And I have to have the show on the TV as my wife likes it, so why not get involved?

Like it or loathe it, social media commentary of popular shows is very on trend right now. The BBC has taken to publicising preferred hashtags for shows (Digital Revolution, Question Time for example) so that we can all engage on Twitter. ITV shows have their own, organic, folksonomic back channels on Twitter and other social networks but ITV has gone to the trouble of setting up a special social space that fans can go to to do the live commentary thing. X-Factor is one of their high profile shows on ITV Live.

A few weeks ago I decided that, in deference to the factor tweet haters, I’d pop over to ITV Live to see what it looks like as a space.

Here are my findings, visualised:


Twitter can be quite rude and raucous, especially when some of the more divisive characters in a show are on screen. ITV live seems a little cosier, less hostile and without the sarcasm and bitchiness. Interestingly usernames are often some sort of fanfom based pun; several members of the community

 add contestants surnames to their own name, so I might become “Jonathan Waissel” while others demonstrate preferences through names like “xxJon4Danixx”.

The space is live moderated, and the moderators lead the conversation, they don’t just police it. Because of this many messages are responses to questions posed by the moderator – that pre-moderates things to some extent by keeping the conversation on rails.

Advertising looms large. The Yeo Valley campaign, which features prominently in the show’s ad breaks, and is apparently the companies entire TV spend for the year, gets cross-platform synergy into this space in the form of banners and sponsored messages in the conversation timeline.

I guess really it’s exactly what I expected: safe, uncontroversial, brand friendly, commercial.

By Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jonhickman Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research: http://interactivecultures.org