Does social media extend a TV show’s lifespan?

Being a fan of the TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I follow several people on Twitter connected with it. These range from other fans, writers of the show and individuals who own Buffy-related websites. The oddity of this became apparent recently when I realised Twitter first emerged several years after the show finished.

Watching episodes of the hit series, which has now reached cult-status, often revokes nostalgic memories of fashions that came and went, and reminders of the pre-Internet age it was set in. From Buffy’s choice platform sandals and pre-straighteners hair to Willow’s research using archived newspaper stories, BtVS is not a show that should still be as popular as it is today. But it is.

In recent weeks the famous musical episode of series six, Once More with Feeling, celebrated its 10th birthday. My fan-status doesn’t go as far as intrinsically knowing this, but I gained the information via my Twitter feed, and more importantly, news of the event surrounding it. One account on the social media site organised an online collaboration, called ‘The Buffy Rewatch’, inviting all fans of the show to watch the episode simultaneously to mark the occasion. It was popular, to say the least.

Since then, an episode has been chosen for the same reason each week and is presenting fresh fans of the show constantly. The remarkable thing about it is that some of these new fans aren’t even old enough to remember BtVS being televised, but that hasn’t stopped its popularity continuing.

The use of social media has enabled fans to access a host of information that wasn’t available a few years ago. Numerous amateur essays appear on an almost daily basis, online academic journals allow for sharing of resources between those studying the show – more to the point, these people are more often than not strangers, yet conform to the community feel of the Internet by use of a shared interest – and that interest is continuing BtVS’s legacy.

The rights to the show have now been bought by an independent filmmaker to be developed into a movie – an action which would be questionable without an existing fan base.

It would be right to question whether this established form of prolonging the life of a media product has contributed to the television and film industry’s choice in recent years to produce more remakes and continuation films than ever before.  The Internet gives rise to fans who wish to take a film or TV show into their own hands and run with it – they take what they like and they tell the world, creating an army of fans ready to commit their online voices to expressing why the product must live on, regardless of its official status.

Those behind the scenes in the industry have at their fingertips a pre-existing database of market analysis. Should a film, once briefly popular in the 1980s be remade into a 21st century global hit? A quick look at a few online forums would give an immediate answer, one that in a risky financial economy, gives producers the additional reassurance they need.

For industry pros, social media is creating an ease on a difficult economical time. Not only do fans provide market research, but they’re a free marketing tool too. For fans, this use of social media simply gives a huge opportunity to connect with others and keep a show like BtVS alive. Does everybody win? No. What the industry forgets when it takes an old product to redevelop is that the fans have owned it since social media took a hold, and anything that is not done they way they like it will not go down well and is just as likely to fail as it is to succeed – something that was made clear when the news of the Buffy movie remake broke. Until its release, Slayer fans can stay in the comfort of their online communities and miniature Sunnydales to keep hold of the show they love.

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