Twitter mania is sweeping television. The company recently signed a deal with a production company to explore TV options, but meanwhile some networks have already begun incorporating the 140-character social media feeds into their programming.
The E! channel streams a feed of celebrity tweets across the lower third of its screen, while some CNN newscasters have practically made Twitter their co-anchor. Over at MTV, the new show It's On with Alexa Chung allows viewers to type a message in Twitter and watch it appear on their living-room sets.
None of this is exactly new — MTV's Yack Live displayed a feed of AOL chat room comments during its shows 12 long years ago. And relatively recent history is littered with futile attempts to integrate television with the latest technological fad.
The new CBS whodunit mystery series Harper's Island extends its story lines online with additional videos and social networking. Even so, the show is still a ratings flop. That's because this kind of online extension doesn't bring new viewers in — it just overindulges the hard-core fans who aren't going to stray anyway.
A few years back, the networks embraced Second Life, three-dimensional virtual communities that allowed fans to congregate online. Everyone from CSI to The L Word rushed into this space. Then, after the initial hoopla, TV left Second Life a ghost town.
Another flash in the pan? ABC's Enhanced TV, which allowed fans of Monday Night Football and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to play along online while they watched programs at home. But Enhanced TV and its ilk are now extinct.
A handful of TV game shows, like Midnight Money Madness and Take the Cake, have tried to loop mobile into the act by allowing viewers to use text-messaging to play along from home via mobile phone. But those programs haven't exactly become household names yet.
With all this failure, it may seem odd that the networks continue to try to bridge this chasm between TV and other technology. But TV programmers know that computers and phones are their biggest competitors, luring eyeballs away from TV sets.
Perhaps there's some fundamental disconnect between the passive experience of watching TV and the interactive nature of the Internet. If so, don't tell the TV networks. As long as there's hope of new revenues, they'll never stop trying to make it happen.