Reality TV is in crisis, but that may be good for viewers
Reality TV is in a “Survivor”-esque battle — and only the fittest will survive.
The real world is getting ugly for industry executives who have long treated reality TV as a cash cow. More than two in three reality TV producers — who work on everything from lifestyle reality shows to documentaries to cooking shows — say their profit margins fell in 2016, according to a survey of producers by trade association PactUS and Variety magazine. “The profit margin, which was generally 10% of the entire budget, has gone down” to about 8%, says David Lyle, president at PactUS and former CEO of National Geographic Channels—a dip that means up to $120,000 less cushion with each season. Experts say that’s a significant amount in the already typically low-budget world of reality television.
To blame: Declining viewership — the number of viewers who watched reality TV more than an hour each week dropped by 10% from 2014 to 2015 alone, according to market research firm CivicScience — and rising costs, as consumers demand more from shows, including far-flung locales and insider access to stars’ lives. Two high-profile examples include the Real Housewives now jet-setting to exotic places ranging from Paris to Turks and Caicos, at the expense of the producers, and the showrunners of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” feeling compelled to pay a reported $250,000 just for the family’s Christmas card photo shoot.
On top of that, reality television hasn’t seen a new smash hit in years. “Survivor” debuted in 2000, while “The Bachelor” is almost 15 years old. “American Idol” ended a 14-year run last year after ratings slipped. HGTV reality shows like “House Hunters” still draw big audiences, but some have run since before 2000. And while CBS’s “Hunted,” a fugitive hunt remake, was the most viewed reality TV premiere in five years, it remains to be seen if it’ll be a sustained success. “We’ve had hits that get to second base, but not a home run,” admits Lyle, who earlier in his career developed “American Idol.”
This is all bad news for TV execs — but not for the thousands of viewers who are sick of mediocre-at-best reality shows clogging up their channel guide. Indeed, lower profits mean over are the days when even anodyne series like “Extreme Couponing,” which depicted people addicted to snipping coupons, get renewed, experts say. Copycat programs with humdrum plots are out too, says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at comScore who points out that ABC’s “Wife Swap” and “Seven Year Switch” (among other shows) are based on almost the same premise. And bizarre shows like “Swamp People,” in which “10 guys with beards who do things with alligators,” will be a relic of the past, says Lyle.
At the same time, America’s favorite reality TV hits – like voice and talent competitions — are here to stay. “You’d think people would get sick [of them],” says Degarabedian. But executives “know what their audience is looking for and keep giving them what they want.”
This story was originally published on MarketWatcb
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