MIPTV: Reality Shows In Decline

"Your Face Sounds Familiar"

As the multibillion-dollar format business runs out of new ideas, programmers desperately search for a new hook.

Fifteen years ago, MIP-TV launched a small screen revolution. It was at Cannes' venerable television market – which turns 50 this year — that reality TV was born. Love 'em or hate 'em, reality show formats - from Big Brother and Survivor! to American Idol and Dancing With The Stars! to Keeping Up With The Kardashians and The Jersey Shore — changed television as we knew it and made billions for a new breed of non-fiction producer. 

Every year program execs descend on MIP-TV hunting for the next big thing in reality TV. But if the new crop of show formats is anything to go on, we shouldn't expect another revolution. 

“I don't see anything mind-blowing this year,” says Karoline Spodsberg of Banijay International. “The trend, if you can call it a trend – is that people are reworking already existing genres and existing shows. Almost everything “new” is set in something we already know and already is successful.”

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So we have ABC's format The Taste, which Red Arrow is selling internationally, a combination of the head-to-head cooking of Iron Chef with the blind auditions of The VoiceOr Everybody Dance Now, a group dancing take on So You Think You Can Dance? from FremantleMedia's Dutch subsidiary Blue Circle. Or The Resort, from British production group TwoFour, an international version of a hit Brit reality show featuring 18-24 years olds going wild on vacation, the kind of drugs, sex and drink docutainment well-known to fans of Jersey Shore. 
In fact, the most successful “new” format of the past two year has been The Voice from Talpa Media, a show that is essentially American Idol with spinning chairs. 

“There are a lot of really new, really great show ideas out there,” says Jens Richter of Red Arrow. “The problem is the channels have become so risk adverse. For broadcasters its all about: track record, track record, track record.”

Among the dozens of reality shows launching at MIP-TV there are a handful that break the mold. Endemol's Your Face Sounds Familiar – based on a Spanish show – combines the comedy, celebrity and singing competition genres in a format in which local stars mimic the famous singers of all times, from Frank Sinatra to Justin Bieber.

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Absolute Majority from Banijay, based on a hit German format, is a compelling mash up of political discussion and game show in which politicians compete for the votes of a live audience. If any one of them wins a majority, they take home a cash prize. And Keshet Broadcasting's Remember Me, puts a new spin on the makeover genre by putting a formerly obese woman back into a fat suit to confront the demons of her past. 
Any of these shows, or some other as-yet undiscovered format at MIP-TV, could prove to be the next big thing. But with ad sales still shaky and economic recovery far from certain in many territories, it looks likely that broadcasters will continue to go with the old song and dance – and spinning chairs – for some time to come.

“It's true nothing at the moments looks like the 'next big thing'” says Iris Boelhouwer, head of global creative operations for Endemol. “But the thing about the revolutionary formats, the ones that change the business, is you never see them coming.”