Five’s flight from reality acknowledges failure

Five has pledged to make no more reality shows, as part of a move upmarket, saying the genre has passed its sell-by date.

Director of programmes Dan Chambers announced the change of tack at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch last week. “For me, reality has been and gone now,” he said, adding that Channel 4 should axe Big Brother, the show that started the trend in 2000. He suggests that each successive series falls less within the broadcaster’s public service ethos.

Industry commentators, however, say that while reality shows have lost their sparkle, there is still life in the genre – and Five’s decision has more to do with its inability to come up with a winning formula.

Starcom managing partner Andy Roberts says Chambers would not advocate pulling Big Brother if it were a Five show.

“The fact is, Five hasn’t been successful at building its own reality shows, so I’d be cynical about what Chambers said,” says Roberts. “People do need to look at reality shows that are on their way down, like Survivor, but you’d be a brave man to chuck out Big Brother. It has been propping up Channel 4’s schedule for a long time and boosting its audience for three or four months a year.”

While Five’s flagship reality show The Farm courted controversy by showing an image of Rebecca Loos pleasuring a pig, it had until that point averaged just 1.2 million viewers. A second series averaged about 1.5 million viewers. Five’s other experiment in the same genre, Back to Reality, which featured ex-reality TV stars, received poor reviews and was not recommissioned.

Roberts adds/ “Big Brother has a special position in the hearts and minds of a core group of consumers. It is the other stuff that is on the wane. It is Five that has failed. There’s room for more than one reality show. They just haven’t captured the imagination.”

A similar situation exists in the US, where stalwarts of the reality genre such as pioneer Survivor on CBS and The Apprentice on NBC have lost steam. Viewing figures for Survivor are down between ten to 15 per cent from its last two outings, last year.

Meanwhile, ITV’s reality “talent” shows such as The X-Factor are going from strength to strength. X-Factor’s transition episode, from auditions to “boot-camp”, was watched by an average of 9.7 million viewers, matching the average for last year’s final. An average of 9 million people have watched each show this year, against 6.9 million last year.

Another ITV hit, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, averaged 9 million viewers last time around, but the station’s Celebrity Love Island averaged just 4.4 million.

Carat head of media Steve Hobbs says both ITV and C4 have attracted critical mass with their reality shows and adds that, while Big Brother’s popularity is on the wane among younger people, its viewing profile is quite broad. However, only 7.8 million people watched the final this year (Big Brother 6) compared with 10 million for Big Brother 1.

A Five spokesman admits the channel has failed to capture the public imagination with its reality shows and confirms that although Commander VIP will air, no new reality shows will be commissioned.

Instead, Five will plough more money into features and dramas and into better-quality films. “I think the public has become bored,” he says. “There was a certain novelty value when reality shows first came on air, but there are so many of them now that unless you have a waterproof concept and great casting, it’s hard for them punch their weight.”

Hobbs says that although shows such as Big Brother and ITV’s celebrity offerings should and will continue to be commissioned for the next few years, broadcasters must look for alternatives to schedule-filling reality shows. He adds: “We’d all be interested in something different from reality. It has become a bit bland.”

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