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Why Do We Watch Reality shows?

Reality TV is popular in many countries. While America may seem to have tons of reality programming spanning across numerous subjects, there are countries all over the world that love the genre as much as we do. It is such a mystery why people love watching reality television so much that it seems like human nature. This article will attempt to solve that mystery.

Britain began most television trivia shows, music competitions, and reality syndicated shows. There are forty-four different countries’ versions of “Britain’s Got Talent” since the original released in 2006. “Wife Swap,” which is seemingly less popular in the states, has twenty-two versions across the globe. “Master Chef,” which also originated in Britain, has thirty-two versions in the world.  (Source: Economist)

A 2012 report from The Hollywood Reporter narrows the scope to an American perspective. It says that of 100 percent of people surveyed, fifty-one percent admitted to watching talent competitions, forty percent admitted to watching shows about historical jobs (Pawn Stars), thirty-six percent about food and cooking (Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen), thirty-one percent tune in to physical competition shows (Survivor, the Amazing Race), and thirty-one percent watch shows about dangerous jobs (Deadlist Catch, Gator Boys). Obviously some people are pulling double duty on some of these shows.

A study from the journal Psychology and Marketing found a “decline in the importance of humor and an increase in the importance of drama” in adolescents who watch reality television. Drama is very popular in shows like “The Real Housewives” franchises. It almost seems that the more drama is involved, the more popular the show. Atlanta is the most popular, with thirty-two percent of viewers, New Jersey holds twenty-one percent of viewers, Orange County has nineteen percent, Beverly Hills has sixteen percent, and New York holds eleven percent (The Hollywood Reporter). Interestingly enough, Atlanta is full of arguments, and New Jersey has an inafamous “table-flipping” scene featuring a livid Teresa Guidice. Bring on the drama, bring on the ratings?

Adolescent Motivations for Reality Television Viewing: An Exploratory Study says that “The age-related differences with respect to the drama and humor motivational categories found in this exploratory study suggest an emerging hypothesis—that the importance of the humor motivation may decline with age and the importance of drama as a viewer motivation may increase with age.” This finding could likely explain why high schoolers and older identify more with shows like The Real World or The Real Housewives franchises, while younger audiences find humor in American Idol failed auditions and The Amazing Race contestants running all over the place.

The study from the journal Psychology and Marketing also went as far as saying that “Advertisers have concluded that reality programs are especially suitable for product placements because of the possibility for natural integration of the product within the context of the program.” This is true from an earlier post on the TalkinTV Blog, which shows all of the high fashion brands sold in Kyle’s store on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Teresa Guidice of the Real Housewives has been on the New York Times Best Selling Authors List three times for her cookbooks. Bethenny Frankel sold her Skinny Girl alcoholic beverage line for one hundred and twenty million dollars, as reported by Forbes.

Although these businesses are thriving, many viewers do not take reality television stars as seriously as they take themselves. Sixty-six percent of viewers reported in a poll from The Hollywood Reporter that they are laughing at the characters of reality television shows, rather than the thrity-four percent who are laughing with them. The same poll revealed that seventy-three percent of viewers actually care about the set-up of the show they are watching from producers, or script set ups behind the scenes of a show.

As far as commercials go, the best place to advertise is clearly live television. With live television, viewers cannot seek through commercials as they could on demand or with DVR. Viewers of shows like talent competitions prefer to watch the shows live so they can vote in real time and view the results as they occur. Therefore, advertising during these shows would yield the best results (The Hollywood Reporter).

The Hollywood Reporter’s study showed that seventy-five percent of viewers have a preference for television personalities that are relatable for the viewer and ninety-six percent prefer likeable personalities. The viewers oppose a star who is over the top and cannot be relatable. As a matter of fact, the company reported that viewers have a keen awareness on what is relatable. Seventy-none percent of viewers surveyed see through Kim Kardashian and believe that her wedding with Kris Humphries and her sudden relationship with rapper Kanye West are stunts for publicity. Thirty two percent of viewers truly believe she is a business mogul and sixty eight percent consider her to not posses true talent or any skills.

As a matter of fact, many viewers find certain reality television shows to actually be tasteless. The Hollywood Reporter says that thirty percent of readers surveyed believe that Jersey Shore “crosses the line of taste and decency (Hollywood Reporter).”

In Eric Hoyt’s article Keeping it Real: Watching the World Watch TV, he states “It is unfair and shortsighted to write off reality television as a vast cultural wasteland, particularly when taking this canonical view.” But why do we watch Reality TV? And why can’t we stop ourselves from tuning in weekly? “It’s a constant need to check up on the lives of other real people,” says Joe D’Alonzo, Drexel University alum. “My favorite reality television show is Top Gear because the hosts talk about cars as if it is a conversation with friends. I like to watch which new car features come out and what the celebrity guests say about them. It’s interesting to see what a car is capable of with a basically limitless budget.” He says.

Everyone seems to have an interest in a reality show that applies to their favorite topics. In an article published in Psychology & Marketing, a study called Adolescent Motivations for Reality Television Viewing: An Exploratory Study reveals that “People make decisions as to what program to watch—and whether to watch television at all—based on the needs and wants they seek to satisfy.” This would make sense with the quote above. Joe D’Alonzo likes cars so he satisfies his needs through watching the show. If people like fashion but don’t have the cash to throw around, they can satisfy their needs when they watch Project Runway and live vicariously through the personalities.

With a new reality show coming out every day, and different people being cast regularly, there are no limits to the potential shows that could come out. We have shows about Teen Moms, shows that are known as the Jersey Shore of rednecks (Buckwild), shows about the wives of the mafia (Mob Wives), Ghost Hunters, and even Hillbilly Hand-fishing. Tons of Soap Operas have been cancelled; actors are frustrated with shows getting cancelled in place of reality shows, and American viewers’ priorities seemed to have shifted. Will reality television stay this popular forever? It’s hard to tell, but it’s looking like it’s here to stay.  It doesn’t seem to matter why we are watching reality television, but we are watching it, and the ratings are just getting higher.

Sources: The reality television poll. (2012). Hollywood Reporter, 418, 50-51. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1023847472?accountid=10559

“Entertainers to the world; The reality-television business.” The Economist [US] 5 Nov. 2011: 67(US). Academic OneFile. Web. 17 Mar. 2013.
Patino, A., Kaltcheva, V. D. and Smith, M. F. (2012), Adolescent Motivations for Reality Television Viewing: An Exploratory Study. Psychol. Mark., 29: 136–143. doi: 10.1002/mar.20510
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