A crisis of reality. Presentation and Perception of reality in scripted factual entertainment formats

TitleA crisis of reality. Presentation and Perception of reality in scripted factual entertainment formats
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Harnischmacher, M.
Affiliation (1st Author)University of Trier, Germany
Section or WGPopular Culture Working Group
DateSat 29 June
Slot CodePOPS3a
Slot Code (Keyword)POPS3a
Time of Session14:00-15:30
Session TitleRaptures of the Real
Submission ID7042

In today’s television market, the growing competition (both between stations and with the new media) calls for the development of new creative formats that reach wide audiences and are, at the same time, cheap to produce. In Germany, this has led to a worrying development in the factual entertainment sector (“Reality TV”). While factual entertainment formats – from docu-soaps to dating shows – have long been among the consistently successful programs especially for younger audiences (Lantzsch 200, Krüger 2010), there is a growing trend towards fictionalization of these formats. That is, Reality TV becomes increasingly “scripted”, and further removed from factuality. Currently, factual entertainment constitutes the largest program segment in Germany’s biggest private networks, RTL (28,4 % of the program) and SAT1 (32,3 %). Scripted reality formats made up 20 % of this segment in 2009, and the numbers have been rising steadily. There are many reasons for the success of scripted reality formats: high ratings, low production values and a fast production cycle that leads to costs of about 30.000 to 40.000 € per episode. At present, there is hardly a cheaper TV format, with the exception of home-shopping programs (Zabel 2008). Simulating authenticity without being authentic is easier than “traditional” documentary approaches, even cheaper than older forms of Reality-TV, and allows telling more sensationalistic stories. However, there is another reason as well. Based on uses-and-gratifications theory, this presentation will argue that the success of scripted reality programs reflects motivations and fits media usage patterns of younger audiences. It will present data from a study using a mixed-method approach centered around one of the most successful scripted reality programs on German television, “Mitten im Leben” (“ordinary life”), which is currently reaching about 23 % of the relevant target group for advertisers (age 14-49) (Krüger 2010). In a first step, 40 episodes of the show  were analyzed regarding the representation of protagonists on the program (status, gender roles, working roles, themes and narration; 98 items). The second step was an online survey of audiences’ perception of the program (June 2012, response rate: 421). The questionnaire consisted of 93 items ranging from general questions about media usage to questions concerning knowledge and perception of authenticity of scripted reality programs. The third step was a content analysis of the show’s official Facebook page. Posts and commentaries for 13 episodes were analyzed (286 commentaries), regarding their discussion of character representation, factuality, authenticity, as well as formal aspects such as tone, and language.   References Hill, Annette (2005): Reality TV. Abingdon Hißnauer, Christian (2011): Fernsehdokumentarismus [Documentary television]. Konstanz Krüger, Udo-Michael (2010): Factual Entertainment. In: Media Perspektiven 4/2010, 158-181 Lantzsch, Katja (2008): Der internationale Fernsehformathandel. [The international TV format trade]. Wiesbaden Papacharissi, Zizi / Mendelson, Andrew L. (2007): An exploratory study of reality appeal: Uses and gratifications of reality TV shows. In: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 51, 2/2007, 355-370 Zabel, Christian (2009): Wettbewerb im deutschen TV-Produktionssektor [Competition between German television productions]. Wiesbaden

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