Public commentary related to reality TV can be overwhelmed by thoughtless reactions and negative sentiments, which often reinforce the cultural stereotypes. In the CuRAtOR project we had frequently observed how commentary on social media around such TV programming was especially problematic – often driven by the strategic use of hashtags by show producers at key moments in the “reality” being portrayed in the shows. In the project we have been exploring ways of developing “second-screen” applications that can be used alongside the broadcast of reality TV shows to help viewers engage more reflectively with their content.
The resulting application – Screenr – brings geographically distributed viewers together and uses voting and live textual tagging to inspire more critical co-viewing of programmes. The concept underpinning Screenr was that of a “spotting guide” – a resource to help viewers spot particular production techniques, tropes and stereotypes that are used in the shows to ‘other’ the populations and groups being portrayed. Small groups of viewers vote on what shows they will watch each week, watch these shows together, and are prompted to tag and annotate the content while watching them. Chat features enable discussion between viewers around the content, and promote discussion of different perspectives on the socio-political dimensions of the broadcast programming. An evaluation of Screenr with groups of viewers over a month highlighted how it had potential to support more critical forms of engagement with reality TV programming, promoting deepened discussion around socio-political issues, and that tagging and spotting itself can engender closer viewings and readings of broadcast media.