I hate most reality TV shows, I resent the way the British public has been duped into thinking light entertainment has to involve nasty, spiteful competitive elements, I’m dumfounded at how the producers of these shows have conned the public into funding them through SMS messages and I’m depressed at the way the media think the “results” of the shows are somehow front page news. THERE’S A F**KING WAR AND A RECESSION ON .
Anyway, as you can imagine, I haven’t sat down in front of TV on a Saturday night for a long time now. It’s even stopped me watching Match of The Day so disenfranchised have I become with mainstream British telly.
But coming out of a client meeting earlier this week, I see a brighter future thanks to technology. Twitter – and Instant Messaging – can kill reality TV.
In the meeting we were discussing IPTV, essentially internet connected & distributed television. Still very much in its infancy, IPTV promises to heighten the TV experience when the interaction and connectivity of the Internet is married with content on the goggle box.
Of course, we have rudimentary IPTV now, but anyone who’s bothered to “press the red button” will know what a generally painful and unrewarding experience it is. If we want to check team line ups and other scores when a game is on for example, we’ll likely fire up the laptop or iPhone rather than go through the 1990’s dial-up-internet-esq experience of digital telly, and it’s this marriage of Net and content that interests me.
So consider its affect on reality TV. Your TV can overlay a Twitter page on top of any programme. You’re watching X-Factor or some other brain rot and you want to express your hatred/love/indifference for Simon/Cheryl/some act with bad hair. You can do it as *part* of the programme rather than on a separate machine. Even though Twitter probably won’t be integrated into the TV programme itself – seeing as you can’t really monetize a hashtag – the fact that it appears on the same screen gives the illusion of a holistic experience, and pretty soon the notion of texting in to vote will seem ludicrous, especially if the “it’s all a fix” story continues to gain momentum (and it is all a fix, you do know that? WWF’s not real either, you knew that too right?)
How many people vote in these shows because they generally give a shit about the acts? 10% I’d wager at best, and these are the people you avoid at dinner parties. Most people I’d argue vote because it gives them legitimacy to have a point of view on the show. Give them instantaneous – and free – access to a worldwide audience via Twitter (or their peers via IM) and the need to somehow register their approval/disgust via an SMS will go, rapidly.
We’re already seeing – well hearing – this in radio. Talksport was awash with SMS-based talk shows and competitions only 2 years ago. Listen now and while they still reference the texts, it’s nowhere near as prominent. Why? Because white van man has got into email big time, and he’s started to wonder why he should pay 50p to say “Wenger is a twat” when he can do it for free on email.
With a decrease in SMS revenues, the commercial radio and reality shows are going to face a tough choice. Do they increase the commercial side in other ways – stadium tours, singles, licensed merchandise – or do they cut their losses on the format and scale back? I’m betting it would be the later, since you need the voting element to fuel the carefully constructed stories and scandals that are fed to the media and help convince normally right minded people to pay a premium to vote for Jedward or cough up £35 see really bad karaoke at the 02.
There’s already a precedent for this in Big Brother, with the format and house mates becoming ever more ridiculous in a desperate chase for ratings and relevance. Fair plays to Endemol, it managed to keep it alive for a lot longer than most expected. It was the TV equivalent of the Queen Mum (or Jimmy Saville).
Taking a macro view, this is all part of the big technology paradox facing the media industry, namely that the Internet has lead to a revolution in how we make, distribute and consume content, yet because we gave everything away free to start with (blame those hippy programmers in the Valley), no one can make any serious money from it, unless you plaster it with ads or are very creative with the distribution model. Sky’s iPhone announcement for its sport’s channels is a great example of the latter.
But here’s the paradox in action, Sky’s owner Rupert Murdoch is trying to put walls around other parts of his content in a frankly laughable attempt to extract value from something that’s been free for a long time, while Talk Sport has reacted by seriously downgrading the prize value of its competitions, airing more adverts and getting all of its shows sponsored despite is listening figures going up.
It’s a trend that will only continue, and I firmly believe that if IPTV does take off and we have imaginative minds looking at how we integrate the Internet into our TVs, then we’ll see an end to the obsession with the public-revenue driven reality TV shows where the verisimilitude of public choice is actually more carefully managed than a North Korean press conference.
Huzzah and hurrahs all round then? Well not quite, because you have to wonder what will come next. The rules are already changing for broadcast regulations on product placement and it’s a safe bet to assume that things are only going to get more commercial, not less.
But perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. After all, if the trade-off of being bombarded with adverts is being able to comment instantly on the quality of an act – or show – then perhaps the cream will rise to the top, while the dog shit sinks to the bottom? If we must have reality TV, then at least the British public will have a clear and unhindered path to saying what’s good and what’s dross, and I trust my Brothers and Sisters of the British Isles to do the right thing (apart from 10 years of New Labour and putting Major back in in 92).
So, hurry along IPTV. Bring Twitter to the homes of Tunbridge Wells on a Saturday night and expose this reality TV dross for what it really is. Open up the home television experience, make it interactive & engaging, kill off premium rate SMS as a legitimate TV tool and give me a reason to switch the box back on at the weekend.