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It’s hard to believe that just a few short years ago, networks were throwing as much reality television as they could come up with at viewers. Now, even on network television, the reality TV trend is dying, with fewer and fewer new unscripted programs released each year. Even amidst the huge dip, however, it’s still a pretty good moneymaker for cable and network television. Apparently it's not a model that works for the subscription streaming services, like Netflix, that rely on binge-watching to bring in new viewers, though, and that was just made abundantly clear by a key executive at the company.
Recently, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos explained this to investors at a conference, according to Bloomberg, highlighting how the subscription streaming service’s original scripted programming, including the likes of House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and newbie Marvel show Daredevil are or will be consumed for years while reality shows tend to very popular for a very short amount of time.
The kind of disposable nature of reality, basically doesn’t have much of a long shelf life. It hasn’t been a great category for us.
A lot of this stems from the difference between Netflix’s model and cable’s model. Network and cable TV relies on advertising dollars to continue producing new programming, and the more eyeballs that are willing to tune in live to see Rumor Willis’ latest performance on Dancing with the Stars or to see Mama C backstab everyone on Survivor, the better. However, soon after those episodes air, audiences move on to new programming, meaning the shows don’t really have much longevity. And if people don’t want to go back and watch past seasons of shows for fun or to catch up to the latest season, it’s not programming Netflix really wants to invest in. It doesn't have the luxury of living in the moment. At least right now, Netflix originals need to play the long game.
This is the same basic reason why Netflix hasn't been interested in broadcasting sports. The practice is extremely lucrative for a ton of more traditional channels, but for the price to air, or in Netflix's case stream, such content is outrageous. More importantly, it has nothing in common with Netflix's current business model, which involves attracting and keeping customers.
That's the thing. It's not just about getting people to watch the reality show. For the expense to be worth it for Netflix, the program would need to either convince subscribers to stay or new subscribers to join. And since even the majority of reality television fans wouldn't list these shows as their absolute favorites, it's really tough to justify the expense, even if they're cheaper to produce than most shows.