In the current situation we need lightness and relief like never before. A recent study from the Consumer Insights team at ProSiebenSat.1 shows that so-called “Trash TV”, better known as reality shows, are giving us exactly what we need during the current crisis. Let’s take a look at why.
What started with Big Brother in 2000 is now part of our everyday lives. A simple concept with easy to understand characters, fights, love and embarrassing moments - the reality genre is growing constantly and, in a market where there’s much format crossover, it seems the point of saturation has not yet been reached. In addition to tried-and-tested beacons such as Promi Big Brother, newcomers like Promis unter Palmen and Beauty and the Nerd have also hit the Zeitgeist and attract broad viewership. This fascinated us, particularly during the current lockdown, so in a recent study, conducted in summer 2020 using participants who have a general affinity to the genre, we examined what makes reality shows so successful – and why.
Like no other genre, reality shows service a wide range of emotions. After a busy day, people long to simply be entertained, to switch off and relax. Even if the term "trash" has negative connotations, for reality fans it means above all (superficial) simplicity, which is urgently needed in certain situations. These needs have been amplified by the Corona pandemic: adherence to strict rules and regulations has led to a growing desire for escape. There is also evidence to suggest that reality shows perform a kind of mental hygiene, as watching others have emotional outbursts on TV allows us to let off steam by proxy.
Moreover, our desire for closeness and community is particularly strong in the Corona pandemic and authentic insights offered by reality shows create the feeling of being right in the middle of things. Through reality shows viewers can participate in social interaction and build "real" relationships. Celebrity reality shows in particular make it possible for the viewer to live out their voyeuristic side, which the target group (reality shows are particularly popular among women between 30 and 49) rarely admits to in everyday life.
Promi Big Brother is a prime example. The format: celebrities are isolated from the outside world for an extended period of time in a custom-built house and each week one is evicted by public vote. The celebrities are observed 24 hours a day by secret cameras (voyeurism). There is constant conflict in the form of quarrels and jealousies (letting off steam by proxy) and intimate moments, all while the viewer is desperately trying to get to know the celebrities better (the search for “social interaction”) and compare their behaviour in the house with their public image. Promi Big Brother provides pure escapism: a holiday atmosphere, luxury (and not so luxury) living, extreme behaviour and a glimpse at how the other half live.
Reality shows are giving us exactly what we need right now – a feeling of community, close relationships, mental hygiene and the all-important liberation from the ordinary. What more do we need to escape everyday life during the Corona pandemic?
Gerti Mohr, Strategic Research Manager Consumer Insights at Seven.One Entertainment Group, also assisted in the conception of the reality shows study and is co-author of this article.