TV & Social Media: Inside/Outside Television Production?


I’ve spent the past time I’ve had on the project trawling through the BBC Internet blog on topics to do with innovation and social media. So I thought I’d share a few observations from the 73 posts on Innovation (the most tagged entry: I’ve not read them all, just those that connect to social media) and the 12 on Social Media.

Firstly, it’s worth noting that all of the blog posts on the BBC Internet blog about social media at the Corporation are at least 2 years old. Rather than suggesting that this means social media is no longer important – it indicates how much it has become part of the routine of production.

One of these, from 2013, points to BBC Academy produced materials dealing with the relationship between TV, online and social. An interesting interview with Steven Green, Crimewatch Assistant Content Producer, provides some insight on how social media is integrated into, and changing, television production.

Green discusses how the BBC’s Automatic Page System generates a programme page once a show is confirmed in the schedule, marking the start of social media work around the programme: sending out a “Tweet to link back to this page”.

But what’s particularly interesting is the way in which he describes the process he’s involved in and his place in the production team:

We use a number of content management systems (CMS): iBroadcast, iSite. With those production tools we can get video and text and images from the team and process them and put them on the site. I work closely with an edit assistant who will basically export it from avid to a flip factory that will then convert it into a format that I can then use. … On the day of the live programme, that is when I am at my busiest … I will be working hard getting everything there, checking everything and also checking responses. There is obviously now people talking about the programme on Twitter, and so I’ll be looking at that and passing that on to the production team

Green positions himself as somehow outside of the production team: being handed material to deal and convert for social/online use, and returning material back to the ‘production team’ for them to utilize.

Taking a wider view of the way the BBC talk about social media on the BBC Internet blog, this is indicative of a wider trend. Those people with a responsible for social media tend to sit outside the television production team – working as engineers, researchers, product managers, audience analysts within the Future Media division. This is a division I’ve noted before in my work on multiplatform. The fact it continues to exist and may have even become routinized to those producers who are more closely aligned – in terms of physicality, timing and content – might suggest how television integration of social media’s into production might be described as axillary: inside/outside?

James Bennett is Head of Media Arts, Royal Holloway, University of London

Social Media in the Television Workplace


Queen-tweets-01_3328137b In 2011, the BBC’s social media guidance was simply “don’t do anything stupid”, equally Channel 4 adopt an approach of ‘if you wouldn’t say it on air, don’t post it online’ (Broadcast, 23/02/12). Yet as the recent ‘Queen has died’ (June, 2015) Twitter blunder by BBC journalist Ahment Khawaja reveals, in which the journalist mistook a ‘behind the scenes’ preparation for the inevitable event, those working in broadcast organisations may find it difficult to follow these apparently ‘simple’ guidelines that attempt to demarcate the relationship between traditional platforms, such as television, and social media. As a result of her error, Khawaja reportedly faced disciplinary action and the BBC Trust later found the incident represented a serious breach of its social networking policy (Broadcast, 07/07/2015).

The incident raises interesting questions in relation to the launch of the new strand of the ADAPT team’s research. Commencing this July 2015, this ‘live’ project will examine how social media operates as a television production technology, acting as a disruptive innovation coming from outside of the broadcast industry field. The incident demonstrates how the routinisation of social media into production practices still leaves gaps, or breaks, to occur between Corporate decision-making and strategy and individual practice; the pressure felt by production workers to utilize the immediacy of social media and enhance their own ‘brand’ or visibility within production networks or with audiences; and potentially points to issues of training and the increasingly blurred lines between professional and personal personas – on and off line – in contemporary media production.

In turning innovation to routine use, conflict and incoherence are as much a part of the story as official accounts that promote success stories and coherent managerial strategies. Thus, arguably, is the nature of creative disruptive. In this instance, it is interesting to read Khawaja’s ‘blunder’ in relation to such official rhetoric: on the one hand, Rajiv Nathwani, BBCOne and Two’s Social Media Manager, recently described the Corporation’s approach to social media as needing to create a “personal space”, emphasizing content that was presented in a different way: funny captions, behind-the-scenes and ‘off the wall’ messages. Equally, however, official guidance seems to suggest the Corporation discourages ‘hybrid’ Twitter or Facebook spaces – even though these have tended to be the most successful (see Liz Evans’ work here). Khawaja’s mistake here is to fall between these competing messages.

As this project investigates how social media are adapted to, and adapted, into production routines within contemporary factual television, the relationship between innovation and strategy, coherence and disruption, personal and professional will continue to be explored.

James Bennett is head of the Department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London.