X Factor and Big Brother the Latest Examples of Social TV Revolution

08/09/2011 00:02 BST | Updated 07/11/2011 10:12 GMT

When the first episode of this year's UK X Factor aired, I was at a music festival, No watching a bunch of deluded eejits embarrass themselves and those watching with musical acts of murder for me. I had the chance to see Razorlight. Oh, wait...

Actually, I unashamedly love X Factor and all the rumpus around it. Increasingly, that rumpus is happening on Facebook and Twitter, as people tweet and status-update comments that are infinitely funnier and/or more cutting than anything that comes out of the judges' mouths. Thankfully, having a mobile phone enabled me to follow the merciless one-liners from that first episode despite being stood in a soggy field in Essex.

There's a phrase for this phenomenon: 'second screen'. Doing something on one screen - be it a mobile, tablet or laptop - related to what you're watching on the bigger screen in the corner of your living room. Go to any TV industry conference this year, and it's what many of the executives are talking about: what viewers are up to on their second screens, and how the broadcasters and producers can make use of it.

And? This year's X Factor has an official mobile app with a 'Tap to Clap' feature, enabling couch potatoes to virtually cheer or boo on their iPhones. Channel 5 and Endemol are going further: the next series of (non-celeb) Big Brother will let you vote on Facebook for contestants, as well as within the official iPhone and Android apps. Earlier this year, game-show Million Pound Drop even had a Facebook game for viewers to play along live.

That said, a lot of this is necessarily restrictive: you can vote or express binary approval/disapproval, but there's no option to tap in that bon mot about Louis Walsh's latest comparison of a young black singer to Lenny Henry. That's why most of this second-screen activity happens on Twitter and Facebook rather than within officially-sanctioned services.

The best stuff (sorry, 'second-screen interactions') is utterly unbroadcastable, and frequently libellous. I dream of a red-button feature where ITV lets you scroll the most-retweeted comments during X Factor across the bottom of the screen in real-time, but while it's technically possible - if complicated to do well - it will never happen.

Even so, broadcasters are benefitting in another important way. At one point, technology was expected to kill off the idea of communal viewing, as people time-shifted shows to whenever they liked. But you can't time-shift tweets - not easily anyway - meaning that social media is actually driving us to watch some of these big shows and events live, to join in the conversation around them.