×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Gamification’: The Way to Revive Reality TV

Integrating true interactivity can reinvent a genre that needs fresh thinking

The future of reality TV may have already gotten a test run in Japan.

Last year, Asahi TV Corp. and content-fingerprinting specialist Vobile Japan partnered on an unusual experiment for an unscripted primetime series that blurred the line between contestant and audience. When the “Survivor”-themed format featured an on-air personality harpooning fish, viewers were invited to use their smartphones to do some spearing of their own, competing for points by snapping photos of the catch onscreen.

The point was to hook not just fish but also viewers in the treacherous waters of live TV, where ad-skipping DVRs and a sea of competitors make achieving decent ratings increasingly challenging.

It’s an odd example, but one that demonstrates the direction TV networks are going to have to go with reality TV to preserve the prime value of that first window, where most revenue is made. This gamification of reality TV is a trend no one has seen coming, yet it feels inevitable: leveraging second screens to bring back an urgency to watching that first screen.

Lord knows reality competition series can use the help. Once providing TV’s highest-rated programs, this subgenre has seen pillars of primetime like “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars” atrophy over long runs, and few new offerings join them. For every rare success of something like “The Voice,” there have been countless failures.

This category doesn’t need to be just reinvigorated; it needs to be reinvented.

Unscripted TV is far more fertile ground for digital-driven interactivity than are dramas and comedies, which is why many of the genre’s shows are already equipped with extensive social-media adjuncts. But there’s so much further to go beyond hashtags and voting to give viewers more of an investment to tune in when a show airs.

It’s a strategy that’s not easy to describe without using the word “interactive,” which is practically a pejorative, given how long and futilely some on the margins of the industry have toiled to make TV programming more of a participatory experience. It’s easy to dismiss two decades of aborted efforts as evidence that TV is fundamentally passive and leave it at that, but there’s a case to be made that technology was never mature enough to generate the seamless environment required — and it may still not be ready, but you never know until you try.

That’s why NBC should be commended for trying something as innovative and ambitious as the gameshow “Million Second Quiz,” which attempted last year to incorporate real-time trivia via mobile apps — but didn’t receive much audience love. It’s easy to label “Quiz” a failure and conclude that viewers aren’t interested in interactivity, but that may confuse execution with premise.

It’s heartening to see ABC wasn’t discouraged by “Quiz.” The network is launching Israeli format “Rising Star” later this year, complete with a very robust real-time voting component that reduces reliance on the genre’s most cliched element, celebrity judges. U.S. time zones make this kind of live integration a tricky proposition, but ABC’s risk-taking is admirable.

That said, real-time voting is really a baby step toward true interactive TV. It’s hard to visualize the possibilities, but imagine a world where viewers could Skype their way directly into a telecast and compete along with contestants on site. It’s hard to conceptualize any other way for non-sports entertainment to deliver the kind of engagement advertisers crave.

If the broadcasters don’t try to innovate here, other platforms certainly will. Just think how central to the living room consoles like Xbox already are. Microsoft’s entertainment studio would be nuts not to try a series that isn’t steeped in gaming, given what an organic outgrowth that is from Xbox’s core competency.

Competition reality programming may seem too far gone to revive. But if history is any indication, it’s just when you count out a TV genre that it comes roaring back.

More Digital

  • Jingle Punks Jingle Player

    Jingle Punks at 10: How the Production Music Platform's Player Works

    Though its primary function is creative, Jingle Punks is built on a foundation of technology and administration. The patented Jingle Player that lets customers search for music using pop culture terms is both intuitive and efficient. Typing in “Reservoir Dogs” or “Starbucks” generates suggestions. Queries are monitored “so if there isn’t an exact match, we’ll suggest [...]

  • Jill Goldfarb - Jukin Media

    Jukin Hires TV Veteran Jill Goldfarb as VP of Linear Programming

    Jukin Media, which specializes in licensing user-generated viral videos, hired Jill Goldfarb as VP of linear programming. Goldfarb’s former tours of duty include serving as Discovery Channel’s VP of programming and as VP of program planning and scheduling at ABC Family/Fox Family Channel. Most recently, for the past five years she worked as an independent [...]

  • Imax Is Exiting the VR Space,

    Imax Is Shutting Down Its VR Business, Closing Remaining Three VR Centers in Q1

    Imax is making its exit from virtual reality (VR) official: The company notified shareholders with a SEC filing Thursday that it will close down its remaining three VR centers, and write off “certain VR content investments.” A company spokesperson confirmed the planned closures and shared the following statement with Variety: “With the launch of the [...]

  • Apple Music Connect Is Being Discontinued

    Apple Music Phases Out Connect Social Feed

    Apple Music has notified artists that it will be phasing out its Connect social feed. Artists won’t be able to post to Connect anymore effective immediately, and their existing posts will be removed by next May, according to an email sent to artists that was first published by 9to5Mac Thursday. “Today we’re streamlining music discovery [...]

  • YouTube logo

    YouTube Warns Creators They May See Subscriber Count Drops Amid Spam-Account Purge

    YouTube is enacting a broad purge of spam accounts over the next two days, and it’s warning creators they could see a big drop in subscribers as a result. According to YouTube, on Dec. 13-14, creators “may see a noticeable decrease” in subscriber counts. The Google-owned video service regularly works to verify the legitimacy of [...]

  • Ninja to Call 'Thursday Night Football'

    Ninja to Call NFL 'Thursday Night Football' Game on Twitch Free Live-Stream

    Tyler “Ninja” Blevins is Twitch’s most popular live-streaming gamer. Now he’s taking his play-by-play skills to the NFL — although it remains to be seen how many of his millions of followers are actually interested in his commentary on gridiron action. This season, Amazon-owned Twitch has provided free live-streaming feeds of the NFL’s “Thursday Night [...]

  • Amazon Starts Selling Chromecast Again, YouTube

    Amazon Starts Selling Google’s Chromecast Again

    Amazon is once again selling Google’s Chromecast streaming adapter, three years after yanking the product from its website. The e-commerce giant began listing the third-generation model of Google’s Chromecast streaming stick, as well as the 4K-capable Chromecast Ultra, on its website this week. The move could be a first step toward a more comprehensive business [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content