As part of MipTV Online Plus’s conference lineup Michelle Lin of media consultancy K7 Media highlighted a number of trends in reality shows, with the focus on social experiments, sports stories and true crime.
Lin started her session by making a general observation about factual programming. “Broadly speaking topics are becoming much more specific in their focus. Stories are more personal and to a certain degree extreme,” she said. “This allows the show to receive more coverage in tabloids, poses more of a purpose, and in turn draw in more viewers.”
She observed that in reality shows “individuals are taking ownership of their conditions,” and used a few social experiment shows as examples. Some shows have been influenced by the rise in vegan diets, such as “Travel With a Goat” on Insight TV, in which two foodies decide whether to slaughter and eat a goat. These shows typically are designed to spark debate among their viewers.
TV social experiments have a wealth of topics to explore, such as politics, race, gender, nationalism, migration, technology, ethics and climate change. Although the genre isn’t new the past year has seen a “surge” in this type of programming, Lin said.
One trend within this strand is “every-day people trying to understand each other’s perspectives and conditions.” In “What Do You Think I Do,” which aired on MTV3 in Finland, a spouse switches their life with their partner’s for a week. They then make each other promises to improve their behavior going forward.
Another example of this type of show is “The Opposites,” airing on NPO in the Netherlands. Here opposing groups, such as young verses old, or meat-eaters verses vegans, look beyond the stereotypes to find out how different they really are.
Dating shows recently have been experimenting with love through science and technology. In “A Sense For Love,” which ran on Xee in Denmark, two Danish singles “use various senses to see, smell, listen, feel, kiss their way to the right partner.” Experts are on hand to analyze what they witness.
“Too Shy to Date,” airing on DR3 in Denmark, features a group of introverted people using virtual reality technology to find love with their avatars taking their place in dates.
Science comes to the rescue with “The Great British Urine Test: The National Health Check,” to air on U.K.’s Channel 5. This will attempt to raise the awareness about public health issues. The show visits four cities and tests urine samples to demonstrate various concerns about the health of the nation, such as alcohol and drug consumption.
Climate change is a hot topic for shows, but these social experiment shows are no longer associated with the “preaching documentary” but are “carried out in a fun, topical, environmental experiment show,” Lin said.
As Vasha Wallace, Fremantle’s exec VP of global acquisitions and development, explained at this year’s NATPE: “A few years ago, it was clothes and sustainable fashion, and we’ve just had a load of vegan show. This year it’s going to be climate change – I can already tell from the pitches I’m seeing … But it’s moved on from ‘we’re such bad people’ into ‘how can we change this?”
Another growing trend is for sport stories, best exemplified by 2019 Oscar winner “Free Solo.” Upcoming docu series centering around elite athletes include the latest seasons of Amazon’s “All Or Nothing” series, which goes behind-the-scenes with the Brazilian national soccer team and English soccer club Tottenham Hotspur.
There are also documentary series that investigate the more unseemly side of sports, such as “Shame in the Game: Racism in Football,” which aired on BBC3 in the U.K.
However there are also shows that tell uplifting stories, such as “Prodigy,” a series that is coming up on Quibi, hosted by U.S. soccer player Megan Rapinoe, and profiles eight athletes who are age 21 or younger and are set to become the next superstars in their respective sports.
Although the Olympics has been postponed there are a large number of shows linked to the event that are ready to go, such as “Who I Am,” which follows Paralympic athletes. The show comes from Wowow in Japan.
The final trend identified by Lin was in the true crime genre, which has been evolving. The genre has “shifted from magazine style crime information shows of the past which targeted middle-aged female audiences to the recent day’s box-set documentary style that the SVODs have driven,” Lin said. This is a shift sparked in part by Netflix’s series “Making a Murderer.”
“These box sets cover the subjects exhaustively from multiple perspectives and have raised the value of this genre,” Lin said.
In February, Kate Beal, CEO of U.K. indie Woodcut Media, told Realscreen: “I think [true crime] is now an established genre that won’t go away. There will be an evolution into different types of true crime for different types of audiences, so it’s not just the classic true crime show for the classic true crime viewer anymore.”
Lin also commented that “the internet and social media have become the ultimate forum for armchair detectives to share theories and clues to help crack cases, and now that true crime fan detective process is even becoming part of the story.”
According to Lisa Nishimura, VP of independent film and documentary at Netflix: “The shows [like “Making a Murderer”] really do drive you to want to engage in a conversation; we’re seeing that happen more and more on social media where there’s no time zone or geographical restrictions. That’s where we can create a cultural moment and where the filmmakers’ work becomes part of the conversation and the zeitgeist.”
One trend is for shows that investigate mis-carriages of justice, such as “Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project” for Oxygen. These shows have a proven ability to spark debate, Lin said.
Another show that encourages viewers to debate a case is HBO’s “I Love You, Now Die,” about a girl who allegedly encouraged her boyfriend to commit suicide. Netflix’s “Don’t F**k With Cats” takes this a stage further as it centers on an amateur detective investigating the torture of cats.
Many other channels are jumping on the true crime bandwagon by developing niche propositions, Lin said, defined “either by location, the type of crime or by background.”
Other examples of innovative crime shows are the Weather Channel’s “Storm of Suspicion,” in which weather plays a part in solving or covering up a crime, and Showtime’s “Love Fraud,” which looks at a group of women who hunt a conman who preyed on them when they were searching for love through the internet.
Another innovative show is Quibi’s “Murder House Flip,” which combines the true crime and the home makeover formats. A house that was the scene of a crime is given a makeover.