Why Twitter is the new TV reviewer

The social media site is now a place for instant reviews, and can also persuade braodcasters to make changes far more quickly, says Mark Jefferies

I think 2014 can be defined as the year television critics officially lost their power to inform and dictate schedules and successes.


Channel bosses no longer wait to read the reviews and comments of acclaimed TV writers days after programmes end. And nor do viewers.

People have turned to Twitter and instant reviews, and we are now at a point where Twitter comments have a huge impact and cause changes on screen, sometimes within 24 hours.

The best example of this new age was some months back when BBC1 period drama Jamaica Inn’s first episode aired.

Viewers complained instantly on Twitter about the sound quality. And whereas in the past it may have taken bad reviews in the following days to make a difference, the BBC reacted to the news within hours and re-edited the sound to make the next day’s episode slightly easier on the ear.

At the weekend, poor Phil Neville saw his debut as a co-commentator go down badly with football fans watching England at the World Cup.

In this case he took the abuse on the chin, and possibly buoyed on by some confidence boosting words from BBC bosses and a statement released to journalists, returned as a pundit 48 hours later and gave a polished performance.

Again, in previous years he may not have made such a swift change without getting harsh advice on Twitter. Something that may have dragged on was changed virtually overnight.

There are other occasions where Twitter can help a show.

I was one of many people raving about crime drama Happy Valley on BBC1 last month.

It started with just over six million viewers and initially the first four episodes averaged to 5.8m

Lots of people then started to watch it on catch-up, and Twitter slowly became awash with nothing but praise for the series. I know because I was amongst those urging people to tune in.

Thanks mainly to word of mouth rather than old fashioned reviews, millions caught up with the series, and the final episode consolidated with 7.8million viewers, significantly more than earlier episodes, along with 8.1 million episode requests on iPlayer.

It is not just the BBC that cares, either. Channel 4 boss Jay Hunt is a fan of Twitter and I know she monitors how her output is received on social media. At the start of the year, Benefits Street was a particularly hot topic and that certainly didn’t do that series any harm.

People will still read TV reviews, and guides like Radio Times have a healthy life for some time yet as people like to view the full schedule.

And we also have to beware of the bandwaggon effect of social media. Since the Phil Neville criticism, every football match at the World Cup seems to have some fan complaining about a commentator. So a big pinch of salt is needed when reading some opinions.

But the impact to encourage viewing habits and inform and change what we watch, well, that job now appears to be carried out more and more by Twitter and what is trending.


Mark Jefferies is Showbiz Editor at the Daily Mirror