How reality TV can help streamers ride out the coming economic roller coaster

16 June, 2022

A smart reality television catalog can be one of the most beneficial arms to streaming services as they try to find and retain an audience month after month — especially as analysts fear a coming recession.

Reality TV carries the low-risk, high-reward potential that subscription video on demand (SVOD) operators may need as a bear market and inflation lead to a tricky financial landscape.

Unscripted programming can act as a subscriber acquisition driver to an extent, but it can also be the programming block that acts as a core retention driver. As streaming platforms look for programming that keeps people watching, reality TV can be a part of that answer if done right.

When looking at the top 10 most in-demand reality series available on streaming in the first quarter of 2022, there’s some good news for Netflix. Netflix’s Queer Eye, Love Is Blind and Nailed It are all within the top five reality series.

Since Netflix wasn’t even thinking about reality TV as a core part of its service prior to 2014, that’s an impressive feat. Over the past several years, Netflix has invested heavily in its unscripted programming slate. Some of it has worked incredibly well for both streams and buzz — for example, The Circle, The Floor Is Lava, Too Hot to Handle and The Ultimatum.

While Netflix shows are at the top of the list, its competitors’ wins tell us that synergy between linear networks and streaming is an effective combination. Reality programming still benefits from the franchises that first aired on broadcast and cable television. Building on those legacy franchises and finding ways to expand them for a new audience to power streaming services is a way to help bridge the gap between linear customers and incoming streaming subscribers.

For example, RuPaul’s Drag Race appears on the chart twice. The series has expanded its audience over the last several years since moving from Logo to VH1, winning multiple Emmys and continuing to build its mainstream presence. The expansion into Paramount+ with both past seasons of the original series and the new all-stars seasons available on streaming only made the franchise widely available to an entirely new audience. Younger customers who may not have cable to watch VH1 but are aware of the growing demand and conversation around Drag Race can find it on Paramount+.

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In addition to Drag Race, MTV’s Jersey Shore and The Challenge are both cable TV series that have continued to find an audience on linear television and in the streaming space on Paramount+.

Similarly, Peacock has found continued success with Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise. In addition to carrying the past seasons, originals like Ultimate Girls Trip (the franchise’s own version of an all-stars series) and the Miami edition debut on the streaming service first.

These are the type of shows that have guaranteed built-in audiences and, more importantly, can scale as younger cord-cutters find their way to the platform to dig into shows they’ve seen memes of on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Tumblr.

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