Long Read - Twitter, TV and the future of social media as a ‘second screen’

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 5 September 2023
Akshar Dave via Unsplash.

Since Elon Musk took over Twitter – now known as ‘X’ – less than a year ago in October of 2022, chaos and controversy have swirled around like rip currents on the social media platform once touted as representing 'a new form of social interaction'.

First came the firings: on a global scale, the CEO, CFO and head of legal affairs were axed, and locally, everyone from the curation team to account managers suffered the same fate.

Advertisers proceeded to rush for the exits; SMI numbers showed that in Australia, media agency spend on Twitter fell almost by half. IPG and Havas Media advised clients to pause ad spend with Twitter over concerns about content moderation and Australia’s eSafety Commissioner issued a legal notice to Twitterseeking information about what the social media giant was doing to tackle online hate. 

The last few months have seen much of the same scenes play out: the platform trying various different strategies to recoup ad dollars, from paying for content to cutting ad prices; week-on-week traffic (before and after the rebrand) trending downward; and the ABC closing a number of Twitter accounts due to “toxic interactions”.

The saving grace of the second screen

But for all its faults over the years – some of which pre-date Musk’s ownership, it should be noted – Twitter was, for the majority of its existence, regarded as a place, and by some as the place, for people to talk about what they were watching in real time, be that sports, reality TV, blockbuster dramas, political debates or movies about ‘maelstroms dumping rain and carnivorous sharks on Los Angeles’

Such discussion sometimes occurred in a vacuum – a lone Tweeter with a mere handful of followers providing real-time updates into the virtual ether – but more often than not, it was a community coming together to share their opinions, reactions and theories to everything from the latest characters killed off on Game of Thrones, Stranger Things or The Walking Dead to the latest scandal on Love Island, Big Brother or I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!

No doubt such discussion still occurs on X, even as users have flocked to other platforms, but as the world transitions away from free-to-air (FTA) television and towards streaming – and thus away from a state of scheduled, simultaneous viewing and more to a state of on-demand, fractured viewing – does the change in consumption habits mean the idea of social media as a place to talk about shows is dead? 

The changing nature of social media and TV 

According to those who AdNews spoke with, the reports of the death of the ‘second screen’ phenomenon – or even Twitter itself to fulfill this purpose – have been greatly exaggerated. 

‘Second screening’ typically refers to people using another device – most likely a mobile - while watching a television show or a movie. While such activity can often be just mindless scrolling through various different feeds, social media can also be used as a lively add-on to what’s unfolding on the bigger screen, a place to drive both conversation and engagement. 

Liana Dubois

Liana Dubois (pictured right), Nine's CMO, said that as FTA viewing continues to transition from antenna-based viewing to internet-based viewing, either on connected TV or other devices, Nine is seeing the growth on the 9Now platform coming from the live stream.  

“Viewers are tuning into live streamed FTA because the content is of the moment, in the zeitgeist and for the collective which delivers an advantage to FTA in an increasingly fragmented, hyper-individualised and algorithmic content age,” she said.

“When you also lead in the introduction of features like start over, which allows a viewer to start the live stream over if they come in a bit late to their show, you see the power of FTA as the cultural campfire that people continue to gather around to see & tell stories. 

“This means the communal nature that has always existed in FTA i.e. wanting to watch a show at the same time as other people so you can talk about it together, is supported by social communities acting as a digitised water cooler. Different social platforms play different roles for different use cases, audience segments, content genre etc.

“We aim to remain quite fluid in our approach to social to be able to move as platforms come in and out of vogue with audiences." 

Denver Rego, head of biddable media for Frontier Australia, said that the traditional behaviour of simultaneous TV viewership and real-time social media discussions are changing.

“The nature of engagement has shifted to accommodate changing viewing habits, but social media will continue to be an environment that facilitates conversations, community-building, and engagement around TV shows, movies, live events, and other forms of entertainment,” said Rego.

Emilia Chambers, head of strategy at The Pistol, said second screening is still relevant but not in the way it used to.

“The days where we would all sit down to watch the latest episode of a series on a Sunday evening and then spend all of Monday discussing with colleagues and friends are long gone, now only reserved to a very select number of shows that can get viewers to change their plans to be in front of the TV at a particular time,” said Chambers.

“This means that the value in positioning brands in and around high hype TV shows has declined but there is still value in second screening. Viewers are using other devices, mainly mobile, to consume content while watching free to air TV, and this is still an opportunity to reach these viewers and capitalise on context.  

“Brands that approach second screening as an extension of their contextual targeting activations, by aligning to TV shows that are relevant to their brand or specific brand contexts, can still reap the benefits of the second screen.”

David Trencher

David Trencher (pictured right), Reddit’s head of large customer sales in Australia and EMEA, said he thinks the second screen is more relevant than ever because it adds an additional dimension to the viewing experience and one that is a lot more engaging and a lot more social. 

“Being able to discuss, dissect, theorise and debate an episode with others who are just as interested and passionate, and within dedicated communities, takes the viewing experience to another level,” said Trencher. 

“It’s no longer a passive exercise, it becomes a lot more active, in similar ways as we’ve seen the gaming industry evolve in recent years. I know because it’s how I watch TV more and more.”

Trencher said that as an American in London, watching Ted Lasso has become a favourite pastime for him, as he enjoys discussing with the Reddit community the crossover of American references while living in the UK and pointing out how the show tones down Britishisms.  

“This has turned into a daily habit for me, keeping me coming back long after the show's finale,” he said. 

“It’s also fuelling what I watch next and helping me fill the void that Ted Lasso left. This is again something we often see on Reddit, with 48% of users saying discussions on Reddit help them to evaluate which TV and streaming content is best for them – another reason brands and advertisers have a critical role to play here.” 

Outside of traditional TV shows, sports was also raised by media agencies AdNews spoke to a key reason for the continued relevance of second screening despite the rise of streaming.

Euan MacDonald, performance director at Half Dome, said live sports will continue to play a massive role for the second screen to thrive in real-time, especially through major events such as the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup or upcoming AFL Finals series. 

“Streaming services are steadily moving towards staggered releases of new streaming content (e.g., The Witcher S3, Stranger Things S4, The Mandalorian S3), which helps build a space for the second screen over a longer period surrounding the released content,” he said. 

Sam Cousins, chief strategy officer at The Media Store, said she thinks the second screen is still an important and engaging way to connect with Australians, but doesn’t think so in the way that it used to be or in the way that the networks want it to be,

“According to YouGov, 57% of Australians second screen whilst watching TV, but we’re not necessarily engaging with content relating to that TV show, movie or sport” she said.

GWI states that WhatsApp is now the most used social platform globally and we are checking five to seven social platforms a day, with Gen Z at almost seven platforms. That’s a pretty diminished and fragmented second screen especially when one doesn’t have vast commercial opportunities yet.”

Sam Cousins

Cousins (pictured right) said most of the second screening activity these days is passive scrolling until something else takes your attention, or actively researching actors, trivia, or locations relating to the content.

“I would suggest most of the social conversations related to big ticket TV shows happen after viewing as linear audiences decrease. The only exception here is sport,” said Cousins.

“Real time sport experiences and social conversations go hand in hand. Deloitte stated in June 2023 that the future of sport relies on the tapestry of live linear broadcast and digital and interactive experiences where sports personalities and fans create an engaged ecosystem.

“Talent from sport and TV shows are the big drawcard to the second screen curating fandom and social engagement. Survivor, The Voice, and the Below Deck franchise are all great examples of this. Both the Hayu and Bravo social channels create engaging, relevant content whilst their tentpole shows air. 

“This is still a major opportunity for free-to-air TV and streaming networks but to me this should just be part of any social strategy and could be first or second screen activity.”

What does the research say? 

Insights provided by market research agency Honeycomb Strategy, with a representative sample of 410 Australians, showed that four in 10 Australians (39%) have spoken with others or shared commentary online about what they’re watching on either free-to-air (FTA) TV or streaming services in the past month.

Most commonly, Australians have viewed other people’s content (87%), while around a quarter (28%) say they have posted their own content/commentary (which includes messaging)

The Honeycomb research found that despite the rise in on-demand viewing, the phenomenon of using social media as a ‘second screen’ doesn’t appear to be dying: 22% of Australians say they have engaged in this type of behaviour while watching FTA in the past month, while 25% have done this while watching streaming services.

With 73% having watched content through FTA in the past month and 61% through streaming services, the proportion of those using a social media as a ‘second screen’ is actually higher among those watching streaming services (41% vs 30% among FTA viewers).

Younger and mid-aged Australians are primarily driving the prominence of such behaviours, with younger Australians (18-35 year olds), being particularly likely to engage in content across a broader range of channels. 48% of 18-50 year-olds have engaged in this type of behaviour in the past month vs 26% among those over 50.

As expected, the under 35s are more likely to be flocking social media to chat about what they’re watching: 23% of under 35s viewed/posted Instagram stories vs 5% among 50+ year old’s; 17% of under 35s viewed/posted on TikTok vs 2% among 50+ year old’s; and 10% of under 35s viewed/posted on Twitter (X) vs 1% among 50+ year old’s.

Messaging Apps (like Facebook Messenger and iMessage), Facebook posts and Instagram stories are the most popular channels to chat about what Australians are watching, as Honeycomb’s research found that 51% of Australians use messaging apps like iMessage, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to talk about what they’re watching.

43% view/post Facebook posts, with Instagram stories (35%) and Facebook stories (33%) a close third and fourth place. 26% of respondents viewed or posted on TikTok, with Twitter (X) rounding out the top six, with 16% of those who have used social media as a ‘second screen’ in the past month saying it was to post/view posts on the platform.

Threads is slowly catching up, with 14% saying they’ve viewed or posted on Threads about what they’re watching. 

If not Twitter, then who?

If social media is still being utilised as a place both for advertisers to connect with audiences as well as providing a space for fans of the content to discuss what they’re watching in real time, which of the current platforms is best primed to take over this role from X? 

Or does ‘The Platform Previously Known as Twitter’ still have relevance today?

Dave Levett.

Dave Levett (pictured right), MD of Murmur Group, said that Twitter - or now X - will continue to be the self-designated ‘town square’ for live TV commentary as no other platform can harness a local or global community around an event happening at the same time.

“Other channels can try, but they’ll fail. X isn’t going anywhere,” he said.

“What we are seeing is a growing amount of communities on Reddit where your hardcore fans and audiences can reconvene after a major event or TV episode, and comment on what they’ve viewed. 

“For example, the ‘Yellowstone’ subreddit has 182k Members, and the ‘Survivor’ subreddit has 282k Members.  Each subreddit will have their own ‘Post Episode Discussion’, or in the case of blockbuster shows - even have their own ‘Live Episode Discussion’.  

“Brands have an opportunity to either engage with their audiences during ‘live’ broadcasts capturing emotional appeal, or post-broadcast, as they engage with niche communities and channels.”

Trencher said that Reddit is a natural extension to any passionate TV fan’s viewing experience. 

“We know that more than 50% of our users use Reddit to discuss fan theories, share fan-made content, and discuss episodes. It’s also a place of active discovery for many, with 3 in 5 people using Reddit to find their favourite fandom communities, and TV shows – scripted and reality – are a huge part of the fandom experience that thrives on our platform,” he said.

“Reddit has over 100,000 communities and we like to say there is truly something for everyone – this absolutely applies to entertainment, too. In fact, 78% of Reddit users identify as comedy fans, 66% as action fans and 68% as drama fans, which interestingly is up 107% year-over-year. 

“So, whether it’s people coming together to unpack the themes explored in Black Mirror, or following along with the latest episode of Married at First Sight Australia, the discussions that happen within Reddit communities give TV shows another life, and one that lives on long after the episode has aired.”

He said that for this reason, Reddit sees a mix of real-time conversation while episodes are rolling and throughout the season as fans follow along together, as well as ongoing evergreen discussion that is not necessarily tied to what is happening live, especially with streaming services making back-catalogue content so easily accessible 

“You need not look any further than Reddit’s r/bravorealhousewives community to see conversations about episodes of the reality TV phenomenon that aired years ago are alive and well,” said Trencher.


Suzie Shaw (pictured right), We Are Social Australia’s CEO, said that while TikTok and Instagram offer more creative ways for people to communicate and stay in tune with cultural trends, X still excels at facilitating live event conversations due to its real-time nature and character limit. 

“If we look at two of the biggest entertainment moments in the past year, the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the TV series The Last of Us (streaming on BINGE), on both occasions, over half of the conversations happened on X, according to our research,” she said.

“Looking at the future, Threads has the potential to flourish thanks to its ability to facilitate both real-time discussion and deeper interactions, as the team is working on a series of new product features - including voice posts, a desktop app, hashtags, and more - designed specifically for extended text-first conversations.”

Rego said that predicting the next social media platform to replace Twitter or other existing platforms as the ‘second screen’ is challenging due to evolving technology and behavioural trends. 

However, two platforms stand out as potential contenders, he said: TikTok and Instagram.

“TikTok's rise in popularity, especially among younger generations, has positioned it as a strong contender for the second screen role,” said Rego. 

“The nature of the platform, in particular its short-form video format, real-time engagement, and algorithm-driven content discovery enhance the viewing experience and enable users to share, discuss and react to trends.

“Instagram's Stories and Reels, its focus on visual content and real-time updates already contribute to a second screen-like experience. Users and brands often share their reactions, thoughts, and behind-the-scenes content related to movies, TV shows, and events.”

Emilia Chambers supplied august 2023

Chambers (pictured right) said that the natural direction is to lean towards Threads given its positioning as an alternative to Twitter/X, but that we're still yet to see where the platform will land from a positioning in market perspective so it's hard to say if Threads will take over as the designated second screen.

“TikTok in my opinion is a key contender for the second screen title,” she said.

“They position themselves as an entertainment platform which aligns perfectly to TV and at the beginning of the year TikTok released an update allowing users to tag TV shows in their videos.

“Content related to TV shows, TV series and must watch TV sees strong viewer volumes and engagement, showing the interest in this type of content and recommendations.” 

Chambers said that the downside to TikTok as a second screen is that it is at its most engaging with sound on, which competes with TV sound, however the use of captions can overcome this.

“TikTok's position in market, especially when looking at younger audiences, makes them a strong contender for the designated second screen title,” she said.  

MacDonald said he still sees Twitter/X continuing to play a role as a ‘second screen’; however, with reductions in service, moderation and daily users since its rebrand, advertisers are wary of continuing to invest in the platform.

“Threads is the fastest app to reach 100 million users (in just five days) and has significantly impacted the text-based social media space,” said MacDonald.

“It remains to be seen how popular the platform will stay long-term. Reddit has also been a hotspot for longer-running series as a second screen to discuss new episodes or events as they are consumed.” 

The power of social engagement for brands, communities and shows  

With all this in mind, how can brands and advertisers tap into social engagement? How does a passionate online fanbase help to build community around a show? Can such fervour as demonstrated on Twitter (and other platforms) even help to keep a struggling show afloat?

Danny Molyneux Claxon Agency

Danny Molyneux (pictured right), chief strategy officer at Claxon, said in today's digital landscape, the interplay between television shows and digital media has become a potent force that shapes both viewer experiences and marketing strategies.

“The concept of the 'second screen' has evolved beyond its traditional definition, and brands are continually finding innovative ways to leverage social engagement around TV shows to achieve their marketing objectives,” he said. 

“Brand visibility and awareness, audience insights, real-time interaction, influencer partnerships, user-generated content, product placement and integration and exclusive content are some of the key insights and objectives that I see can still be gained by brands through this type of engagement.”

Molyneux said the key to achieving any set marketing objective is to clearly define the measures of success pre-launch. 

“That means connecting one or more of the above mentioned to a desired outcome,” he said.

“The concept of dual screening retains its significance, albeit its definition is undergoing continuous evolution. The term no longer solely relates to the interaction between television and a phone/tablet or a single app. Rather, it's an all-encompassing fusion of the technology we now have at our disposal.”

Cousins said having split attention between a first and second screen is a gift and a curse - it enables a broader conversation with viewers and multiple touchpoints but can limit attention. 

“The second screen needs to have a clear role, and that could be as simple as maximising its search potential or engaging with talent profiles,” she said.

“Creating dedicated content on the second screen in relation to what is on the first screen is a good idea but when multiple platforms are involved. TV sync is also a great option to match up to linear creative or your competitors. 

“We also need to be looking forward to integrated commerce and content opportunities on connected TVs through linear and BVOD and understanding the evolution towards ‘social first’ shows. Increasingly people do not want to break away from a platform to shop, play, learn or create – those are the kind of ‘second screening’ opportunities that really excite me for clients.” 

Shaw (pictured right) said brands that succeed on social understand their audience’s deep-seated desire for connection.

“They are drawn to shared moments and experiences that enable them to connect with people who are having a shared experience or are like-minded. The TV show or event is simply the context for connection, and can create a sense of community and belonging,” said Shaw.

“The opportunity for brands is to leverage that context to give themselves a meaningful role in the audience’s conversation, or even life.”

She said the content also gives the brand a platform to communicate something about itself that is relevant to the audience, ultimately building audience affinity. 

“For example, it might be a values statement, like ‘we believe in gender equity’, or alignment with an audience passion point, like ‘we’re for people who love sport’,” she said.

“To connect with their audience on a deeper level, brands should tell stories that inspire participation. The best performing content strikes a chord with the audience by being insightful - ‘I didn’t know that’ or I’ve never thought about it like that’, or by giving the audience a creative way to share their own thoughts and feelings. 

“For instance, consider the heart-shaped team photo of the CommBank Matildas, taken just after their quarter-final match, which generated the highest domestic engagement rate of the whole tournament at an incredible 63%. 

“By sharing content that gets people talking and sharing, facilitating meaningful interactions, brands can establish themselves as culturally relevant.” 

Nine’s Dubois said when it comes to FTA, social media chatter can support the engagement of a piece of content, in particular for live sport, news and entertainment formats like Married At First Sight, The Block and Love Island as examples. 

“It allows the show's action to continue on for fans between games, headlines, episodes or seasons, just as the chatter in the office the next day does too” she said. Euan Macdonald

“Brands looking to find new ways to find cultural relevance can achieve a massive halo effect from being in and around FTA content and extending that association into the channels where that conversation continues which could be on social or in Nine's case right across additional TV assets, publishing and audio." 

MacDonald (pictured right) said social engagement helps build communities around TV shows and events, so brands and advertisers should keep their finger on the pulse of these communities to understand how they can leverage these spaces to achieve their advertising goals. 

“The decline in linear TV may make these spaces more accessible to advertisers,” said MacDonald.

“Second screen opportunities may extend over the course of a week for releases such as Stranger Things S4, or weeks at a time for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The important thing is that advertisers understand who is engaging in this discourse and unlock opportunities to tap into the excitement.”

Chambers said social engagement has never been more important for the success of TV shows. 

“A study released by Samba TV earlier this year found that TikTok was having a profound impact on increasing TV viewing and was driving not only volume, but engaged users who were watching TV content for longer,” she said. 

“Social platforms have the ability to capture the attention of users and drive them to other content through the power of influencers and advertising. This is especially important for TV shows that are geared towards younger audiences who are moving away from free to air TV viewing.” 

She said being able to capture the attention of younger audiences, especially Gen Z, on platforms they are prominent on and encourage them to consume and engage with free-to-air TV shows is powerful as the initial touchpoint is coming from a platform they consistently engage with and has the ability to speak to them in a way that will drive action. 

“For advertisers this is valuable as it keeps opportunities across free-to-air and second screening open by slowing the decline that FTA TV is experiencing by breathing new life into shows through social,” she said.

Denver Rego

Rego (pictured right) strongly agreed, saying social engagement plays a crucial role in the success of TV shows and its importance extends to brands and advertisers as well.

“If executed well the added investment, that is time by all stakeholders, pays for itself in the long run for several reasons; social engagement helps build/retain audiences, generate conversations and hype for the upcoming episodes,” he said. 

“Additionally, social media is all in real time, meaning that there is an immediate feedback loop which naturally can extend the storylines and subplots of TV shows. Brands and advertisers can tailor their advertising to enhance visibility, ultimately improving recognition and resonance.”

Reddit’s Trencher said social engagement around TV shows gives the content a life beyond the episode. 

“It allows fans to dig deeper via discussion, predictions, theories, recaps, fan fiction and so much more which builds a greater affinity and connection not only with the content, but with those they are engaging with,” he said.

“One of the cool things about Reddit is that our users go deep into their passions and interests so there’s no better place to unpack every detail of an episode or trailer, and we see it happen every day. 

“We also see the cast, crew and creators joining our users in this passion and using Reddit as a place to launch behind the scenes, upcoming or new content and engage directly with fans via things like Reddit AMA sessions and within community conversations.”

“When you couple this with the fact that 63% of Reddit users are influenced by the entertainment content found on Reddit, and 55% of them watched a movie or TV show they didn’t know about before, it becomes really clear that there is a huge opportunity for entertainment brands and advertisers to get in front of a captive audience, add value and build connection with them, and in the process build new fans.” 

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