For major events, the digitally adept are watching on TV and interacting using tools such as Twitter and Facebook.
The Nielsen Company, which measures television viewership and Web traffic, noticed this month that one in seven people who were watching the Super Bowl and the Olympics opening ceremony were surfing the Web at the same time.
“The Internet is our friend, not our enemy,” said Leslie Moonves, chief executive of the CBS Corporation, which broadcast both the Super Bowl and the Grammy Awards this year. “People want to be attached to each other.”
Seeking to capitalize on the online water-cooler effect, NBC showed the Golden Globes live on both coasts for the first time this year, and the network reportedly wants to do the same for the Emmy Awards this fall, so the entire country can watch (and chat online) simultaneously.
But sometimes the effect works even when the program is not live. Rachel Velonza, a 23-year-old from Seattle, knew that Johnny Weir failed to win a medal in figure skating long before she ever turned on a television last Thursday, but she stayed up until almost midnight, enduring NBC’s much-ridiculed tape delay because she wanted to see for herself why he wound up in sixth place. She knew all her friends were watching because they were talking about it on Twitter (which says it counts 50 million posts every day) and Facebook (which says it surpassed 400 million members this month).
“Even though knowing ahead spoils the program, you just can’t help but see for yourself what all these people are talking about,” she said.
NBC says it thinks the habits of people like Ms. Velonza partly explain why the ratings for the Olympics are up noticeably.
“People want to have something to share,” Alan Wurtzel, the head of research for NBC Universal, said from Vancouver. He said the effects of online conversations were “important for all big event programming, and also, honestly, for all of television going forward.”