The rise and fall of reality TV

Over the last couple of decades, the nation has been enthralled by the phenomenon of reality TV. The idea of watching real people, doing real things, live on television was an idea that has fascinated and captured the majority of us.

The genre first started with The Real World in 1992, a program which ran on MTV looking into the lives of a group of people aged 18–25, usually representing different races, genres and sexual orientations. It wasn’t until the launch of Cilla Black’s Blind Date, however, that reality TV really kicked off and this was then followed by Big Brother and Survivor, both of which were not only global successes but became global franchises spawning dozens of countries around the world.

It’s no surprise the world became obsessed with these shows. They allow us to feel emotions and connect with people from the comfort of our own homes and in the company of our friends and family. They make us laugh, cry and even celebrate and the industry cleverly responded to this by launching more and more new programs following the same theme but with a different twist each year.

Reality TV figures are dwindling.

Over the past few years, it appears the magic has started to fade, however, as the TV ratings of some of the biggest and most popular reality shows continue to fall. X Factor’s viewing figures steadily fell from an average of 14 million viewers per show in its peak (2010) to 9.6 million last year and Britain’s Got Talent’s viewers fell from 13 million in its peak (2009) to an average of just eight million last year. The Only Way is Essex, which started in 2010, had its peak viewing figures back in series three with an average of 1.7 million viewers (2011), as did I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here which peaked in 2004 at 11 million.

The latest series of Britain’s Got Talent which came to a close on the weekend had a promising start with the launch show having the highest number of viewers in the programmes existence, however, on Saturday night ITV drew its lowest ever audience for a BGT final with only 10.7m people tuning in. This was despite the excitement of an 80 year old woman being swung around the stage by her 40 year old dance teacher, a magician freeing himself from a straitjacket to escape the jaws of death and new operatic boy band Collabro being crowned winners.

Is it true to say therefore that the advert including the judge’s children, which aired in the run-up to the series, is what boosted the show’s ratings at first? It got people talking, created an initial stir and buzz around the show and put it back in the press and on people’s radars. Or, was it the introduction of the big gold button directing contestants straight through to the live finals that created initial excitement and intrigue from the British public? It certainly created more opportunity for coverage within the press as we found out which acts each of the judges chose for their one selection.

Either way, the excitement quickly dwindled and interest was rapidly lost. So as a nation are we too accustomed to the shock and drama of reality TV now or are we just bored of watching talent shows where the majority of contestants have little to offer?

New reality TV shows with slightly different twists are airing the whole time, such as the current Ex on the Beach which first aired in April of this year, but viewing figures of these new shows aren’t reaching nearly as high as before. The highest viewing figure Ex on the Beach has seen for example is 789,000.

This year will see the return of Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole to the X Factor to try and bring the viewing figures of this show back up. The move has again caused controversy following Simon and Cheryl’s public fall out a few years ago and has therefore expectedly generated a lot of media attention. This can only leave us wondering whether the X Factor 2014 viewing figures will shoot back up too and if so, for how long.

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