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Dead Tree Alert: Gather Round the Twittercooler

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Francisco Caceres for TIME

My print-TIME column this week: why are so many people suddenly watching big TV events this year? The Super Bowl, the Olympics and the major awards shows have all had big ratings increases, often after periods of decline. There are explanations for each, but that doesn’t explain the rise of all. There’s the argument that people are staying home more in a bad economy, but that doesn’t explain why there’s no similar jump in everyday TV viewing. One persuasive theory—advanced by some TV execs in this Brian Stelter piece—is that social media like Twitter and Facebook are making the event-TV experience more immediate and social.

So this week I look at the new TV watercooler: the Twittercooler, a global living room, instant-criticism platform and spur-of-the-moment DVD commentary all in one. How does watching with a virtual crowd of friends change the experience of something like the Oscars?

Have social media changed your viewing habits? Let me know here, or on Twitter.