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Reality TV and Audiences. Key Questions. Why do audiences watch reality TV? Who watches what? How do they watch? How do producers target them?. Producers, Technologies and Audiences – a Complex Relationship. What producers do to generate audiences for reality TV

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Key Questions

  • Why do audiences watch reality TV?

  • Who watches what?

  • How do they watch?

  • How do producers target them?

© English and Media Centre

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Producers, Technologies and Audiences – a Complex Relationship

What producers do to generate audiences for reality TV

  • Broadcasters, commissioners and producers always have particular audiences in mind. They identify and target their audiences in terms of:

    • demographics: age, gender, social class, region, ethnicity

    • psychographics: lifestyles, personality types, values and beliefs, based on specially commissioned profiling, industry case studies

    • market research: what genres/shows are successful, opportunities for more of the same, gaps in the market for particular groups

    • media technologies: creating and exploiting new media platforms to reach and draw in their targeted audiences.

© English and Media Centre

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A Complex Relationship Relationship

What audiences do with reality TV?

Audience theories suggest audiences can be:

  • passive

  • active

  • interactive, engaging with media technologies.

© English and Media Centre

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Who Watches What? RelationshipAudience Demographics

© English and Media Centre

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Who Watches the BBC? RelationshipA ‘Lifestyle’ Approach

According to the BBC’s commissioning policies for its channels:

‘aims to be the UK’s most valued TV channel, offering the broadest range of quality programmes of any UK mainstream network’


‘is the mainstream channel of record for British life – restlessly curious, open-minded and yet spikily individual’.

© English and Media Centre

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  • ‘At the core of BBC3’s schedule are our distinctive factual shows. From Blood Sweat and T-shirts and Britain’s Missing Top Model to The World’s Strictest Parents and Last Man Standing, our factual programmes are innovative, entertaining and thought-provoking’.

  • Tone: ‘3’s content is modern, distinctive and relevant to, though not excusive to, our core 16-34 audience. The tone of the channel is warm, personal and surprising, with real take-on value’.

© English and Media Centre

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  • ‘is what intelligent TV looks like in the 21st Century’. factual shows. From

  • Tone: ‘unashamedly intelligent, lively, surprising, thoughtful ambitious, original, international in outlook, and connected to a wide-ranging interest in the world’.

  • Our audience: ‘not age, wealth or place of origin, but attitude. They are fascinated to see expertise and unfamiliar viewpoints expressed with passion, conviction and authority. Our viewers value powerful narratives, told with passion, intelligence and verve’.

© English and Media Centre

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© English and Media Centre

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How do Audiences Watch? factual shows. From Different ‘Readings’ of a Reality Show

  • Some people find The X Factor offensive or tedious, others find it riveting; some find CBB fascinating, others find it idiotic. How you respond depends on who you are, your background, age, attitudes and values.

  • Some critics identify 3 main ways in which viewers react to – or ‘read’ – a text.

    • The preferred reading (the way the producers want you to see it)

      The X Factor is great family entertainment and full of lovely Cheryl Cole and talent.

    • The negotiated reading

      The X Factor is OK but only for older, undiscriminating, couch potatoes.

    • The oppositional reading (opposed to the way the producers want you to see it)

      The X Factor is offensive and degrading to contestants, is destroying the music industry, and undermines originality and creativity.

  • How do you read The X Factor?

© English and Media Centre

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Media Effects factual shows. From

  • Some critics believe that audiences take in without question, and are influenced by anything, that the media throws at them. They describe the audience as passive. This is sometimes known as ‘theeffectsmodel’ or ‘the hypodermic syringe theory.’

  • People who believe in the effects model often assume that:

    • people (and society) will be ‘dumbed down’ by watching reality TV

    • audiences may be influenced by the ideas and values in some reality shows (e.g. celebrity, getting something for nothing, putting other people down, etc)

    • certain types of viewers – e.g. teenagers, lower social grades, the less educated – are more vulnerableto such influences. Reality TV is often said to inspire crime cases, ‘copycat’, anti-social or passive behaviour.

© English and Media Centre

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© English and Media Centre factual shows. From

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Active Audiences factual shows. From

  • Other critics believe we view TV in a more active way.

  • Active audience theories suggest that audiences are discriminating and thoughtful consumers and, increasingly, producers of media.

    They argue that audiences:

    • make judgements about participants,

    • take active decisions about who to vote for

    • get involved in the process of the programme

    • seek out online information and extra footage, share views in forums, join social networks, follow stories in the tabloids, etc.

  • Does this make reality TV audiences ‘active’?

© English and Media Centre

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Satisfying Our Needs factual shows. From

  • The ‘Four Needs’ (or ‘Uses and Gratifications’) theory by Blumler and Katz suggests that audiences use the media in four different ways.

    • Entertainment and diversion: to find personal pleasure and enjoyment; emotional release from everyday life and its problems.

    • Surveillance and information: to learn about the world, new experiences, other people; to satisfy curiosity; acquire new knowledge.

    • Personal relationships: to enhance and explore relationships with other people, find companionship or substitute friendships on screen.

    • Personal identity: to find support and reinforcement for one’s values and beliefs; to help understand oneself; to help explore one own identity.

  • How far might these explain the popularity of reality TV with audiences?

© English and Media Centre

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Four Stills from Reality TV factual shows. From Programmes (See next slide)

  • Who might watch these shows – and why?

  • Watch the four reality clips below, and choose one to focus on in detail.

  • What kinds of audiences might watch your chosen show (age, gender, social class, ethnicity, interest groups, etc)?

  • What needs, interests, uses and gratifications might your chosen show provide for its audience?

© English and Media Centre

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The Family factual shows. From

Come Dine With Me

Britain’s Got Talent

Blood, Sweat & T-Shirts

© English and Media Centre

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Targeting the Audience factual shows. From


  • finding the right time-slot for the target audience's needs;

  • ‘stripping’ a programme at the same time daily over a week

  • running repeats, extras, special events

  • personalising with online and on-demand downloads

    Interactivity (the latest buzzword – what every producer wants to achieve)

  • phone-ins, votes, competitions, web-based forums, chat-rooms, social network groups, text-message updates etc.


  • keeping you interested through cross-media promotions – merchandising, websites, presenters/participants on TV and radio talk-shows, photo-opportunities and PR stories in the press, lifestyle and celeb magazines and so on.

  • Which methods work for you?

© English and Media Centre

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Putting It All Together factual shows. From

Viewing Figures (Week of 23rd November 2009)

  • Consider the shows listed here.

  • What different types of reality show do they represent?*

  • What sorts of audiences might each one appeal to?

  • Why might each of these particular episodes score such big audiences?

  • Annotate the page to show what you’ve learned about the ways producers target reality TV audiences.

    Source: Broadcast magazine

    * Cast Offs: drama about a group of disabled people taking part in a TV reality

    show. Gracie: dramadoc about the life of Gracie Fields

© English and Media Centre