Amongst the most prominent uses of Twitter at present is its role in the discussion of widely televised events: Twitter’s own statistics for 2011, for example, list major entertainment spectacles (the MTV Music Awards, the BET Awards) and sports matches (the UEFA Champions League final, the FIFA Women’s World Cup final) amongst the events generating the most tweets per second during the year (Twitter, 2011). User activities during such televised events constitute a specific, unique category of Twitter use, which differs clearly from the other major events which generate a high rate of tweets per second (such as crises and breaking news, from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami to the death of Steve Jobs), as preliminary research has shown.
During such major media events, by contrast, Twitter is used most predominantly as a technology of fandom instead: it serves in the first place as a backchannel to television and other streaming audiovisual media, enabling users offer their own running commentary on the universally shared media text of the event broadcast as it unfolds live. Centrally, this communion of fans around the shared text is facilitated by the use of Twitter hashtags – unifying textual markers which are now often promoted to prospective audiences by the broadcasters well in advance of the live event itself. This paper examines the use of Twitter as a technology for the expression of shared fandom in the context of a major, internationally televised annual media event: the Eurovision Song Contest. It constitutes a highly publicised, highly choreographed media spectacle whose eventual outcomes are unknown ahead of time and attracts a diverse international audience. Our analysis draws on comprehensive datasets for the ‘official’ event hashtags, #eurovision, #esc, and #sbseurovision.
Using innovative methods which combine qualitative and quantitative approaches to the analysis of Twitter datasets containing several hundreds of thousands, we examine overall patterns of participation to discover how audiences express their fandom throughout the event. Minute-by- minute tracking of Twitter activity during the live broadcasts enables us to identify the most resonant moments during each event; we also examine the networks of interaction between participants to detect thematically or geographically determined clusters of interaction, and to identify the most visible and influential participants in each network. Such analysis is able to provide a unique insight into the use of Twitter as a technology for fandom and for what in cultural studies research is called ‘audiencing’: the public performance of belonging to the distributed audience for a shared media event. Our work thus contributes to the examination of fandom practices led by Henry Jenkins (2006) and other scholars, and points to Twitter as an important new medium facilitating the connection and communion of such fans.