Do Public Service Media foster the public debate on Twitter? A comparative study of the social audience of BBC One, La 1 and TV3 factual programs

TítolDo Public Service Media foster the public debate on Twitter? A comparative study of the social audience of BBC One, La 1 and TV3 factual programs
Tipus de publicacióConference Paper
Year of Publication2016
AutorsGómez-Domínguez, P, Besalú Casademont, R, Guerrero-Solé, F
Conference NameRIPE@2016 conference 'Public Service Media in a Networked Society?
Date Published9/2016
Paraules clauBBC One, Factual programs, La 1, PSM, TV3

One of the main missions of Public Service Media (PSM) is to foster and maintain citizen debates (Jeannette, 2003; Larsen, 2010). These debates take place in a public media sphere that must be consider one of the cores of any democratic society witheffective communication services (Habermas, 2006). The so-called Networked society provides PSM organizations with effective tools to promote a double-flow of communication between its content and the audience/users (Enli, 2008).

In this context, the microblogging site Twitter plays a fundamental role as a second-screen environment that becomes in public online debate arena (Bonini and Sellas, 2014). Twitter conversational characteristics, the restricted lenght of the messages, simultaneity and its word-of-mouth nature, allow PSM and its audience to exchange opinions, suggestions, feeling or critics (Buschow, Schneider and Uberheide, 2014).  In spite of this opportunity to engage audience, recent studies show that PSM don’t take advantage of Twitter to generate debate, and to create a community and a loyal audience (Greer and Ferguson, 2011).  The main weaknesses that PSM have in this area are (Brevini, 2010; Campos-Freire, 2015):

·         No specific online/social networks strategy

·         The heritage of professional broadcasting routines

·         The insufficient financing of digital departments

·         No government support to digital public regulation

This research proposes a multiple case study on public debate and Twitter. Specifically, we aim to observe how British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Radio Televisión Española (RTVE) and Corporació Catalana de Mitjans Audiovisuals (CCMA) use Twitter to create and maintain a long-term public sphere of debate. Our corpus comprises the two main geographic levels in the European Union, the national and the regional, three different languages, english, spanish and catalan, and two of the three media systems categorized by Hallin and Mancini (2004), the liberal (BBC) and the pluralist polarized (RTVE and CCMA). Inside these corporations, we select the main channels BBC One, La 1 and TV3 that also have the great audience share among the all offer.

Lastly, the sample is composed by two programs of factual genre per channel with active and official accounts in Twitter. This genre, as Debrett (2009) asserts, is essential to PSM’s credibility and in compliance the mission to produce public affairs programmes that contribute to cultivate an informed and critical citizenship. The programmes are:

·         BBC One: BBC Question Time (@bbcquestiontime) and BBC Panorama (@BBCPanorama)

·         La 1: Comando actualidad (@comandotve) and El Debate de La 1 (@debatedela1_tve)

·         TV3: .CAT (@puntcatTV3) and 30 minuts (@30minuts)

In terms of methodology, we randomly selected a five-week period (10/26/2015-11/30/2015) to seek for the hashtag proposed by every program in its Twitter account to encourage debate before, during and after the broadcast. We collected all of the tweets containing the hashtags. Subsequently, we performed a network analysis to examine the distribution of users around each debate. In the same way, we looked for the total spectators of programs and the audience demographic profile. These data allowed us to prove whether there had been a public online debate or not, to quantify audience engagement, the ratio between second-screen users and offline audiences.

Our results show that BBC One, La 1 and TV3 programs failed in generating an effective public debate on Twitter. Particularly, RTVE and La 1 showed the worst results in generating a second-screen public debate around the programs Comando actualidad and El debate de la 1. One of the factors we ought to consider is the aged audience of its programs. On the other hand, BBC One with BBC Question Time succeeds in generating a large response on its users in number of tweets. But only a small group of them are present in a clear and longitudinal online debate. This small group also plays the role of opinion leadership or “influencers” that regulates the information flow of the debate. Finally .CAT of TV3 has only a topic-driven participation around programs about politics and the independence of Catalonia.  

This study expands the knowledge of the relationship between PSM and online citizens. Concretely, we contribute to the topical areas specified above providing a clear method to analyze the ability of PSM in fostering a public sphere of debate in Twitter. Furthermore, this study provides empirical data of users’ behavior around second-screens and the usefulness of hashtags to provide a reference framework of debate to the audience.