Wednesday 21 August 2019

Reality TV continues to deliver ratings for linear channels

Leona Maguire
Leona Maguire

John McGee

John de Mol has a lot to answer for. Almost 19 years ago to the day, the reality TV show Big Brother was introduced to unsuspecting Irish and UK TV audiences on Channel 4.

De Mol, the Dutch billionaire and founder of Endemol - the company behind the series - had already met with some success in his home country and, with a few tweaks here and there, the format was rolled out in the UK.

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Having spent six years at a competitive and tough all-male boarding school, the prospect of watching a group of people eating, sleeping, arguing and competing against each other, all under the same roof 24/7, sounded tantalisingly familiar and resonated deeply within. Almost immediately, I was hooked.

That many of them were plucked from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and were gifted with mixed intellectual abilities, only added an extra layer of schadenfreude to the semi-gladiatorial proceedings. As the contestants were voted off one by one, we sat in smug judgement of various villains, heroes and miscreants from the comfort of our couches, as a creeping voyeurism took hold. TV might never be the same again, I remember thinking at the time.

Irish interest in Big Brother, of course, piqued when former novice nun Anna Nolan was runner-up in the first series, paving the way for other Irish people like Brian Dowling, Ray Shah and Hughie Maughan to bag their claim to fame.

And in the case of Nolan, Shah and Dowling, Big Brother was instrumental in launching their subsequent careers in the media and entertainment world.

Big Brother was not without its fair share of controversy, and the bullying and back-stabbing antics of the household were often the stuff of tabloid gold, as a heretofore bunch of nobodies shared their views, bared their souls and, occasionally, parts of their anatomy on national TV.

For 10 seasons, it went on to be a ratings hit for Channel 4, before it moved to Channel 5 in 2011.

Season after season, it assumed allegorical significance as rationality and irrationality, morality and immorality, and group-think and individuality were pitted against each other on a nightly basis, thus creating a template for much of the reality TV programming evolving since then.

Reality TV as a genre had been around for donkey's years in various guises, but Big Brother opened the door for broadcasters and production companies around the world to weave it into mainstream TV schedules, as they chased ratings, sponsors and advertisers.

At a time when traditional linear TV was starting to compete for eyeballs in all directions, not only was it a godsend, but it also offered a much more commercially astute way of creating programming for the masses.

US networks, in particular, lapped it up and, in the process, unleashed upon the world often cringe-inducing shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Jersey Shore, Temptation Island and Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

And, as we know, reality TV's tentacles have also spread into the wider entertainment sphere with shows like The Voice (a De Mol creation), and X Factor, as well as into more niche areas like The Apprentice, Dragons' Den and the endless amount of bake-off and cookery shows.

Reality TV's many critics, however, have argued that the genre has become a race to the bottom, as contestants are often exploited and spat out, and not enough is being done to protect their mental health in the aftermath, as they struggle to deal with their fame, or in some cases, ignominy.

Not surprisingly, many shows now employ psychologists to work with them on an ongoing basis, including Love Island, ITV's runaway success of summer 2019 which is also broadcast on Virgin Media Two.

Such has been the success of Love Island that many pubs and venues around the country are, I kid you not, planning special themed parties next Tuesday night as the series reaches its finale.

For ITV and Virgin Media Television, Love Island has been a major ratings winner at a time when summer schedules are chock-a-block with repeats.

Love Island will not be everyone's cup of tea but with 51pc of the viewing population (2.2 million viewers) tuning into the show so far this summer - 50pc of whom are aged between 15 and 34 - it has been a good investment for the Ballymount-based broadcaster.

And that's before it takes into account viewers across all platforms, which brings it up to an average of 573,000 viewers per programme, a 42pc growth on last year's figure.

But, in case you have missed it and are feeling left out, fear not: ITV has announced that it will be launching a winter edition of the show later this year. You've been warned.

PR sector in good health

The Irish PR industry would appear to be in rude health at the moment, according to new research carried out by Amárach for the Public Relations Institute of Ireland, which is headed up by Martina Byrne.

Worth an estimated €1.2bn to the economy, an estimated 2,800 people work in the industry, with 38pc working for an agency, and the remainder either working for the private and public sectors, and just 9pc declaring themselves to be self-employed.

More Brits needed

Tourism Ireland was quick out of the traps to capitalise on Shane Lowry's victory in The Open last weekend, with a campaign in a number of UK newspapers - including The Daily Telegraph - promoting Ireland as a golf destination.

Working with Pádraig Harrington and Leona Maguire, the campaign aims to boost the number of golf-loving Brits coming here, as the spectre of Brexit hangs ominously over the Irish tourism industry.

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