Reality TV has had an undeniable and everlasting impact upon the world of pop culture and television since its debut in the 1960’s. The general public for decades has basked in the enjoyment of late night reality TV and watching our peers and celebrities perform tasks, challenges and endurance tests creating the perfect balance between cruelty and hilarity.
However, has the relevance and impact of reality TV declined in an ever changing, modern world? Within the UK, viewership of cult reality TV programmes is at an all-time low. The latest series of Big Brother at its lowest had only 910,000 viewers a large drop from its debut series in 2000 which garnered 10 million viewers. As a result of this, the show that had previously been seen as “The Godfather” of the genre, has been cancelled; potentially signalling the fall of the first pillar of the empire which is reality TV. In fact, viewership of reality TV as a whole has fallen recently; with last year’s X Factor final drawing in only 5 million viewers (half of the show’s finale in its peak year of 2010) and The Only Way is Essex dropping below the 1 million average viewer mark for the first time in 2015 and 2017 since the shows debut in 2010.
But why are these shows that the nation has held in their hearts for so many years, declining in viewership and influence within the world of TV and media? It is very clear to see that one of the problems it is facing is the fact that the market is simply clogged. With a reality show for what seems like every aspect of life and talent, it soon becomes too easy for a viewer to become disengaged with the idea that the industry is looking for quantity not quality. This is very easily seen in the basis that many of these shows release a more or less constant stream of the show; for example, Big Brother which will release a civilian series and then within 3 days of its finish a Celebrity Big Brother series will begin. Many would also agree that perhaps reality TV struggles to keep up with the fast pace and changing interest of the viewers, and can become trapped in a pit of repetitive formats and a lack of engaging competitors resulting in a damaging rotation of recycled reality stars being shared between each TV show. Not only does this make viewers turn off their TV due to a feeling of “seeing this all before”, but it removes the true gem of reality TV which is… reality. It becomes clear that the stars of these shows have created careers from touring the circuit of household name shows, influencing a build-up of fake and staged scripts to try and mirror the element of real life that has long been lost.
There is also a fear that the cruelty element of the tasks within such shows has now become slightly uneasy for a viewer. Within a political climate and media that focuses heavily upon the injustices of the world, perhaps the viewer finds it uncomfortable to escape from such issues when they turn on their TV’s and see yet more cruelty and suffering. Although, it has to be suggested that the most likely drop in viewership is due to the rise of streaming services such as Netflix and the less popular Amazon Prime, and the admittance of a third of millennials stating that they do not watch TV at all because of the availability of services online. The power that the streaming services have now is unprecedented and could not have been predicted maybes 10-15 years ago; and I find it most interesting that TV channels often buy the rights to show many of the shows that are due to debut on the platforms after they are broadcast due to the reliable quality and pull for viewership.
Despite this, reality TV cannot be completely generalised as declining as a whole, as there still are many success stories that are still going strong on our televisions. I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in spite of experiencing a slight drop in ratings in 2017, still remains around the 10 million viewership mark 15 years after its debut. Interestingly, it is arguable that this show is the epitome of cruelty, so why has the popularity of the show not experienced the declining trend of its peers? Perhaps a mixture of loveable presenters, unusual environments and a guaranteed laugh keeps the viewers tuned in. Attention must specifically be drawn to the biggest success of the past few years though, in the form of Love Island. The revival of the series of the same name which debuted in 2005, has seen a wide range positive reception from the general public; and with a viewership built up of mostly teenagers and millennials has had a rise to an average of 4 million viewers in the most current series. Perhaps this is the evidence that is needed to show that certain reality TV brands simply need a rest, and can be returned to in the future to for a new level of success; but could we still see the trend in the next couple of years viewers become yet again apathetic of the format?
So what solutions could be sought after to solve the decline of our beloved genre of TV? Simply, it all boils down to Netflix. With many viewers of TV leaving the traditional form of entertainment and turning to the streaming service, Netflix could take it upon themselves to either stream some of our most favourite TV shows on their platform to reach a wider viewership; or even produce a reality show of their own. With a budget that could be higher than many of the current shows on TV, the service could more than definitely create a show that goes back to the roots of reality TV yet ensures that it is updated to cater to a more modern audience.
However, in short term, TV could perhaps give some brands a rest and revive them within a couple of years, to perhaps peak an audience’s interest again. They could also possibly try and attract more “star power” to the brand, either in terms of contestants, judges or presenters. For years now, shows such as X Factor have been slammed for their drop in quality and stature of the judges on the panel and the guest performers that are invited onto the show; it is interesting to wonder whether this is due to a drop in budget and/or a drop in respect and prestige of the show?
Without such changes and help from streaming giants, could we be seeing the death of many more of our beloved shows in the next few years, and the fall of the empire of reality TV.