Is reality TV running out of steam?

Sabri Ben-Achour Apr 22, 2013

Is reality TV running out of steam?

Sabri Ben-Achour Apr 22, 2013

Today Dutch group Mars One is set to announce details about its plan to fund a human colony on Mars — by turning the process into a reality TV show. That’s a reach, and it made us wonder whether the once fast-growing, profitable reality TV machine — here on Earth — is sputtering.

Reality TV has come a long way since the 90s and MTV’s “The Real World“.  “Survivor” followed, and then came Honey Boo Boo, the child beauty pageant queen.

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, TLC: The series, which began in 2012, consistently drew over 2 million viewers.

And at some point we started getting shows about crabbers and truckers, not to mention, says Jeanine Poggi of Ad Age magazine, “duck callers, comic book men, and Alaskan women looking for love.”

Poggi says there’s a lot of reality TV out there because “reality in general is just cheap to make.”

But the genre has been underperforming in the TV world. Revenue growth for the companies that make reality TV has been slower than for other types of shows.

Duck Dynasty, A&E: About people who make duck calls, the show has 8 million viewers.

Agata Kaczanowska, with IBISWorld, says that trend is going to accelerate. During the next five years, she predicts, “TV production revenue is forecast to grow [annually] at 4.9 percent, compared to 2.8 percent for reality TV.”

Kaczanowska says reality TV production revenue should inch up to $36 billion this year. Not paltry, but it may be that reality TV has lost its former sheen.

A.J. Marechal, who writes for Variety magazine, believes reality TV is still going strong, “becoming part of the cultural vernacular. Whether it’s ‘Buckwild’, ‘Honey Boo Boo’, or ‘Jersey Shore’, these shows serve as reference points in media or even Halloween costumes.”

And while there is plenty on the lower budget end of reality TV, big network productions like NBC’s “The Voice” earn $240,ooo for a commercial, almost as much as sitcom “Two and a Half Men”, according to Ad Age. Even, A&E’s “Duck Dynasty”, a show about people who make duck calls, has eight million viewers.

Let’s do the numbers: Reality TV edition


Preacher’s Daughters, Lifetime: The series, which premiered in March of this year, averages just over a million viewers an episode.


Splash, ABC: Like contestant Kendra, Splash viewers backed off the series, which had one of the strongest reality TV debuts of the year with over 8 million viewers.


Swamp People, History Channel: The series Season 4 premiere in February beat out the NBA and took the top Thursday night cable TV spot with 4.4 million viewers.


Whisker Wars, IFC: Whisker Wars, a show about the world of competitive facial hair growing, did well enough for IFC to renew it for a second season.


Double Divas, Lifetime: Double Divas’ series sneak peak came in second to the network’s reality TV hit Dance Moms, with 1.5 million viewers in January of this year.


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