The British Obsession with Reality TV

reality tv - streettrotter

Back in September 2000, BBC News asked the question: “Is the popularity of reality TV a passing fad or is it set to become the future trend of TV programming?”

Despite many commenters from around the globe arguing that there was no way the genre would ever become a regular staple in British television, sixteen years later there are more reality TV shows being produced in Britain than ever before. They are so popular that many of them have their own behind-the-scenes shows, national tours and apps. Today, we thought we’d explore Britain’s obsession with reality TV to see just how deep their love goes.

Reality TV Inspires Gaming

Reality television is so pervasive in British society that Brits’ favorite reality shows have managed to enter almost every single media genre there is, including music where X Factor winners often top the charts, magazines – as avid readers of The Voice will know – and even games. 

reality tv - streettrotter

Whilst reality shows are yet to make their way to the big screen, the craze has gone so far that some shows have transcended television to enter the multi-billion iGaming industry and now have video games and online slots dedicated to them. For example, two of the most successful shows – The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent – have their own slots, available on a variety of online casinos including bgo; The X Factor slot is set in the recognizable studio and players spin the wheels to try and win votes from the judges and get to cheer the actual finalists.

Reality TV games aren’t limited to talent shows or online platforms though, as there are also mobile apps such as Gordon Ramsay’s culinary strategy game DASH, which is downloaded almost 9,000 times per day. The game offer fans the chance to face their favorite chef and other contestants in a battle to create their own restaurant empire. This new way of engaging fans in one-of-a-kind interactive experience also involves graphics and soundbites from the show. This is certainly evidence of the ever-wider reach of these franchises, as so far video games and slots were inspired by more traditional popular culture, from Elvis to TV series like Sex and the City. 

The reality trend is so pervasive that many of our own shows here in the United States are actually based on British series, including American Idol, Hell’s Kitchen and Dancing with the Stars. This hits very close to home, so let’s take a look at why the British obsession with reality TV has managed to have such an impact on cultures around the world.

Numbers Please!

In mid-November, the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board reported that three of the top five most viewed programs that week had been reality TV shows. The other two were David Attenborough’s documentary series Planet Earth II and the popular soap opera Coronation Street, which don’t necessarily fit into the reality show genre but don’t exactly stray far away from it either.

The first of the reality shows, which came second only to Planet Earth II, was I’m A Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here! with 12,662,000 viewers. I’m A Celebrity was first broadcast in August 2002 and has since been picked up by the USA, Germany, France, Hungary and Australia to name a few.

Like numerous other British reality shows, I’m A Celebrity has had such an impact on the public that the series has board games, books, DVDs and its own slot machine on Zinger Spins. Meanwhile, Strictly Come Dancing, the show that came third and fourth on the BARB ratings list, is already selling tour tickets complete with hotel and transport packages despite the fact this year’s season is ongoing.

reality tv - streettrotter

Why Is Reality TV So Popular?

According to a study conducted by Turkish psychologist Lemi Baruh, individuals who watch a lot of reality TV may have voyeuristic tendencies. This means that they are entertained by watching situations, incidents and conversations they wouldn’t usually be able to see.

A secondary appeal of reality shows is that they offer us the chance to compare ourselves to others, regardless of whether that comparison will leave us feeling envious or relieved.

For instance, The X Factor’s audience may wish that they were the contestants impressing Simon Cowell with their incredible vocals, but they’re probably relieved that they don’t have to go through all the backstage stress and can instead just get the thrills of playing The X Factor slot on bgo – and even be rewarded with 20 free spins when they register for the first time. This relief will also be felt by those who watch A&E-based programs or one of those shows about people who get stuck on mountains.

Whilst it turns out the British obsession with reality TV may be based on a culture of trait voyeurism, desire and schadenfreude, we can’t deny that we love a bit of reality TV ourselves. So, next time you’re playing The X Factor slot or watching Survivor or The Biggest Loser, give a little thanks to the British.