Voyeur television

At the heart of these programs are events which are constructed by the media for the media. After all, if there were no camera and no microphones, the events probably wouldn’t be happening. The media then invites the audience is then invited to take a peek.

 In its colloquial usage, voyeurism, described as secretly staring at other people for personal enjoyment, is considered more a harmless, although at times, guilty pleasure (Nabi, Biely, Morgan, and Stitt, 2003). Although labelling reality-based television programming as voyeur TV might be convenient, but does doing so unfairly denigrate the genre?On a general level, Nabi et. al. (2003:327) found that reality based programs, have been characterised by the participants in their study, as voyeur television. However, the researchers wish to stress that by focussing solely on this view, will do a disservice to the genre. This label “virtually precludes the perception and study of the potential positive outcomes of viewership, including learning about oneself and the world at large” (Nabi, et. al.

, 2003:327).In contrast, according to Levinson (as quoted in USATODAY.com, 2004) “all of us are voyeurs, it’s hard-wired into our being. If anything, it’s amazing that reality TV didn’t catch on faster than it did”.

After all, as Shakespeare once said “All the world’s a stage”. We are fascinated by what is going around us, its human nature. We love to watch. If reality TV is at the forefront of the major shifts within the television industry, its prolific position has also corresponded with the rapid development of new media technology (Murray ; Oullette, 2004). Murray and Oullette (2004:07) continue to indicate that the explosion of reality television programming has also been a product of a changing worldwide industrial environment.Under the threat of new recording devices and the increasing number of cable television options, the television networks were forced to consider the possibility of new production and financing models (Murray ; Oullette, 2004). This includes that expansion of merchandising techniques, an increased emphasis on audience interactivity and the addition of commercial messages within programs, ie. Subliminal advertising (Murray ; Oullette, 2004).

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Modern reality TV programs rely on very small microphones and hidden cameras in order to capture private moments such as those that occur on Big Brother or romance reality like Joe Millionaire or The Bachelor. Yet the marketing and distribution of reality TV has also developed in particular ways. It’s use of the Internet, streaming video, cell phone technology, radio and digital television (Murray & Oullette, 2004).Gone are the days when viewers were restricted to merely watching television on the family television set. They can now keep up with the goings on of their favourite reality TV programs via short message service (SMS) with messages sent directly to their mobile phones, by accessing 24-hour footage on the web sites and by calling a telephone number to cast their vote (Murray & Oullette, 2004).Audiences are addressed in a way in which is a producers’ notions of who they are and how they are likely to respond (Hart, 1992). The audience identity is deliberately `written into’ programs in number ways. These include, for example, tone, pace and vocabulary.

“The way producers and advertisers address audiences involves more than simply the language used – it depends on a whole range of other contextual features” (Hart, 1992:16).Big Brother draws attention to its audience in a big way according to Murray and Oullette (2004). The Big Brother house in located in Dreamworld a large theme park found in Queensland. During series one, a live audience of up to one thousand fans regularly gathered on the set (Murray & Oullette, 2004). The show constantly invokes, exhorts and includes them, as well as the viewers at home, “interactively through votes and polls and with their commercial partners” (Murray & Oullette, 2004:308).There are ample opportunities open to advertisers through reality TV and generates phenomenal revenue for the television networks.

Reality programs such as Big Brother and Survivor appeal to the all-important demographic of eighteen to thirty-four year old (Mhando, 2002). This demographic has a taste for audience participation and are highly appealing to the advertising companies due to “their disposable income and buying power” (Mhando, 2002:185).The simple fact is television simply would not exist if it weren’t for advertising. A program such as Big Brother can offer advertisers not only advertising space but also “cross-media and cross-marketing potential through radio, newspaper, fashion, the Internet and magazines” (Mhando, 2002:184). A prime example of this strategy can be noted in the manner which Big Brother’s “24-hour interactive coverage was linked up with Channel 10’s advertising, radio, TV chat shows and even news!” (Mhando, 2002:184).Although official figures are confidential, Mhando (2002:186) estimates Channel 10 paid $15 million for the rights the Big Brother and analysts assess that they made 80% of this back from four key sponsors. On final eviction night, two thirty-second ads sold for nearly $50,000 each. There was a huge wave product placement, which ensured more big bucks.

Strategically, placed Pizza Hut and Heineken featured largely in the Freedom furnished Big Brother house. As Mhando (2002:186) says “it’s the advertisers answer to a world where we can fast forward commercials”.Reality television is an exciting and diverse genre which sitting right on the forefront of new media technology. Two prime examples of this are Survivor and Big Brother. Both a recognised worldwide for being first class examples of success within the genre. The reason they remain on top is because of their readiness to take hold of new methods of communicating and marketing to their target audience groups. They also actively encourage as much audience participation as deemed reasonably possible.

There is no more obvious display of this than on their respective official web sites. Both encourage audience participation, Big Brother most prevalently with their interactive voting system. This system ensures that the viewing audience opinions truly count in who stays and who is evicted out of the house. Survivor, encourages audience participation in a different manner. Usually, the only participation viewers can partake in with Survivor are the various polls, survey, message boards and chat rooms.

Last season, during Survivor All-Stars, for the first time, viewers were allowed to pick who deserves the extra million dollars that producers put up. Survivor’s website also has interactive chat session where viewers can log on at the same time as recent evictees and ‘chat’ directly to stars of the show.Reality television has come a long way from the days of Candid Camera and COPS, particularly in term of new media technology. The Big Brother house is full of both hidden and visible cameras and a multitude of microphones. Nothing in that house is said or done without it being picked by the outside world.

 Survivor is able to transport and set up their production in the middle of uncivilised terrain all around the world. All their cameras and microphones in a place that is so secluded and so remote. Gone are the days of the shaky handheld cameras from Candid Camera.Reality TV leaves ample advertising opportunities available to producers and advertisers. There is significant revenue generated through these television programs. Product placement is even a possibility in the remote locations of Survivor (Mountain Dew, Jeep and Budweiser Beer, for example) as well as in the Big Brother house as indicated earlier.Reality TV is no longer the cheap and nasty alternative to high priced sitcoms and crime drama on television. This genre has evolved into a television force to be reckoned with.

Whether it appeals to viewer’s sense of voyeurism or their need for audience participation, there is one certainty. The reason you can’t switch on the television without coming across reality television, is because of the audience demand for it. How much longer this demand lasts is anyone’s guess, but as long as the demand is there, the likes of Mark Burnett and the television networks will be there to supply it.

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