With the rise of digital platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, the circus of reality TV is losing its appeal

Prerna Mittra

December 06, 2018 13:27:40 IST

Remember the time the outrageous elimination of a favourite reality show contestant left you cursing and clenching your fists in annoyance? You promised to stop watching the show altogether, only to return the very next episode, because you were too addicted to all the drama anyway?

Reality television fan Kanishk Jain (name changed) doesn’t. She stopped watching her favourite show Bigg Boss after just 10 episodes of its ongoing season 12 (Jain, in fact, is so irked with the show this season that she only has the choicest of unprintable adjectives to describe it). “I had been following the show for three seasons now, but this year something seemed off. I got awfully bored of the repetitive tasks and the mindless fights. There has been literally nothing to look forward to in this season,” says the 26-year-old from Meerut, who practically grew up in sync with the growth of reality TV in India.

Numbers talk

Rohit Suchanti and Sreesanth clash during the task in Bigg Boss 12.

Rohit Suchanti and Sreesanth clash during the task in Bigg Boss 12.

For now at least, data coming in from the Broadcast Audience Research Council India (BARC) — that analyses TV viewership data — would let makers of Bigg Boss heave a sigh of relief, despite the fact that Jain is part of an increasing lot of viewers who are swearing off reality TV. BARC data shows the opening episode of Bigg Boss 12, featuring host Salman Khan, garnered 10.2 million impressions.

That figure is an improvement on the first episode of last year’s Bigg Boss 11 (7.8 million), although the daily ratings have dipped over the weeks. On an average, an episode of Bigg Boss 12 garners around 5.9 million impressions. Similarly, the Amitabh Bachchan-anchored Kaun Banega Crorepati season 10 garnered 7.6 million impressions on its opening night, as opposed to last year’s 7.3 million impressions, but an average episode of KBC 10 only garnered 7.1 million impressions.

The numbers would seem decent, but with digital platforms taking over, it could be a matter of time before TV’s reality circus loses the battle.

Digital Rising

The truth is reality shows such as Bigg BossMTV Splitsvilla and even the celebrity-driven Koffee With Karan (ostensibly, a platform that lets filmstars ‘reveal’ awful truths), which were considered cool among GenNow for long, have ceased to be talking points among the urban viewers, which importantly drives advertisement trends in India. That segment has moved onto the digital platforms.

The fact that streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have started providing intelligent shows, which at the same time can shock and regale, is only denting the prospects of reality television.

Karan Johar on Koffee With Karan season 6's poster. Image from Twitter

Karan Johar on Koffee With Karan season 6's poster. Image from Twitter

“There is now the option of better content now,” points out Noida-based Siddharth, a 25-year-old chartered accountant aspirant. “The emergence of quality series and movies on streaming platforms is changing the entire demographics of television. While most of the reality shows on TV seem one-dimensional and convoluted, the digital platform provides relief.”

Siddharth cites the example of MTV Splitsvilla and MTV Love School. “Who wants to see a romantic angle in task-based survival shows?,” he scoffs at the notion.

Flashback 

Reality TV, of course, has seen better days. Long before Netflix became a rage, they came in as a whiff of fresh air for couch potatoes tired of schmaltzy soap operas. On reality TV, participants showed off talents even as they bared their emotions on national television. The cocktail struck an instant chord. Music and dance reality shows back then seemed entertaining because the concept was novel, which in turn made them commercially viable. Later, the introduction of audience voting made these shows even more saleable. The viewer became royalty, and the participant was at their mercy.

Initially, the shows did look irresistible, as judges engaged in fights and contestants, by turns cried, laughed and revealed sentimental life stories. The trouble started when these ratings-friendly tricks started to overshadow the talent hunt, which is traditionally meant to be the primary intention of any reality show.

The audience became aware that not all of the drama was genuine. Reality TV was not all that real, after all. Worse, whatever drama was on, was often devoid of taste. “They don’t show real joy and sorrow anymore. These days, they only focus on fights, sexual tension, and stuff like that,” says 28-year-old Nishant Kumar, a private sector employee from Delhi.

“Lately, I watch reality shows more out of habit, but I don’t necessarily enjoy them. For instance, Bigg Boss this year is only riddled with fights. The use of inappropriate language makes it difficult to watch the show with family,” Bengaluru-based homemaker Nilanjana Paul, 41, says.

That should sound like a warning bell.

Updated Date: Dec 07, 2018 11:42 AM