Reality shares the wealth

Feb 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Reality is hot, cheap and it skews younger.
But the genre that dominated the face of prime-time television in the February sweeps and launched a thousand quips in late-night TV monologues has also impacted more traditional scripted shows through a kind of halo effect.
“Just as a reality series can affect its competitors, it can also affect the audience composition of its lead-in and lead-out programming,” was the conclusion of a recent study of the subject by Initiative Media. “In most cases, companion programs did gain 18 to 34 share, but their median age did not always decrease.”
While some lead-ins even got fractionally older when paired with reality shows, ABC’s “George Lopez” is one example of a program that got “dramatically younger,” according to the Initiative study. “Lopez” dropped nearly five years off its median age when it led in to “The Bachelor”/”Bachelorette” reality franchise, instead of into “Downtown,” the network’s older-skewing newsmagazine.
Generally speaking, “There’s definitely a halo affect on the whole night,” when reality is added to the mix,” said Tim Spengler, Initiative Media’s executive VP and director of national broadcast. “We’re talking larger and also younger.”
That means Initiative Media and other agencies now have to rethink their original estimates of what some halo-effect scripted shows are worth to their clients. “If you have money short term, scatter money, now you’ve got to redo your estimates,” he said of the scripted lead-in series such as “Lopez” that reality has boosted. “You give those shows the benefit of that pop. … The shows are more valuable to us, and the network can now command a higher cost.”
But potentially those are not the genre’s only effects on scripted television shows, said Mr. Spengler. There is also what might be called the “The Sopranos” factor, and it’s very much in vogue now: “How much of this [reality] format, shorter program arcs, with a beginning, middle and end … is playing to the appetites of today’s faster-paced society?” Mr. Spengler asked.
In other words, according to Mr. Spengler, programmers may now be mulling a new reality- and HBO-inspired paradigm for their traditional dramas, namely, a shorter, no-repeat season. After the originals air “you’re out,” he said. “That is something that gives me pause, more than the genre of reality [itself]. … Will this spur the networks to do what HBO does on Sundays?”
The reality genre’s many recent ratings triumphs have also changed the minds of advertisers, even who those that once avoided it, who are now voting with their ad-budget dollars. “In general, [clients] are much less reluctant to consider a show simply because it’s in that genre,” Mr. Spengler said. “Six, eight months ago we were getting the sense that a lot of our clients were saying, `I don’t want to be on reality television.”’
The two categories of clients most reluctant to make the reality leap then were retailers and package-goods advertisers, according to Mr. Spengler. “They were really not interested in participating. … Now we’ve moved into, `OK, some shows in that genre I’ll be OK with.”’
In other words, advertisers have learned to distinguish between “When Animals Attack” and “American Idol” or “Fear Factor” and “Joe Millionaire.” Though there are, Mr. Spengler noted, still some advertisers who eschew reality altogether and would prefer to be in scripted drama and comedy. Not surprisingly, Mr. Spengler declined to name which Initiative clients still avoided the genre.
But overall, “We’re talking case by case,” he said. “Our feeling is that each [reality series] has to be judged on its own merit, rather than being tainted with a particular brush.”
In the upcoming upfront, the expectation is that the networks will use reality’s recent hit numbers to argue for overall cost-per-thousand increases across their prime-time schedules. That’s an argument that Mr. Spengler and his buyer colleagues are likely to resist.
IM’s current roster of advertisers includes the Bayer Co., Coors Brewing and Home Depot.
Initiative Media, part of The Interpublic Group, is the successor company to Western International Media.