How Producers Are Striving to Solve a Vexing Demo Problem
Male viewers have been the primary drivers of what has been a record-setting performance for live sports programming on cable this year. Big-ticket live events, such as the recently completed National Basketball Association Playoffs or boxing’s May 2 Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao mega pay-per-view fight, have dominated the ratings charts.
When it comes to TV’s most-watched and highest rated reality shows, though, male viewers are about as absent as LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers teammates during the NBA Finals. The latest Ratings Intelligence look at the top 30 reality shows among the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic shows just a handful of programs that can pull in a majority of men in a field dominated by female-skewing shows such as VH1’s Love and Hip Hop and Bravo’s Real Housewives franchises. (See chart)
Men long have been an elusive group for networks and advertisers to reach outside of live sports or specific programming genres such as horror, science fiction and competition or survival content. This analysis of the top reality shows over the last year — the second such annual Ratings Intelligence review in Multichannel News — reveals a void of men as relationship- themed shows have become more popular, particularly among younger viewers. But some network and studio executives are not ready to write off the reality genre as a vehicle for reaching men.
WHICH SHOWS SKEW MALE
“Men have always been hard to reach, and it’s even harder now with the viewing habits changing,” Dirk Hoogstra, executive vice president and general manager of History, said. “But I still believe if we put on the right show and it’s a great show [male viewers] will find it and it can still break through.”
Currently, only eight of cable’s top 30 reality programs over the past 12 months among adults 18-49 (per live-plus-3-day data) skew male, including three of the top 10. Those are AMC’s live talk show Talking Dead, the top reality show and one that benefits from cable’s highest-rated series, The Walking Dead, as its lead-in; Discovery Channel’s Gold Rush, which finished third overall; and A&E’s Duck Dynasty, which was the sixth-highest-rated reality show over the past year.
Further, none of the top-rated freshman reality series in the list drew a predominately male audience.
VH1’s Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood is the top-rated reality series to premiere over the past 12 months, with nearly three-fourths of its audience skewing female.
The second-highest-rated freshman reality series — Spike TV’s Lip Sync Battle — skews female even though it falls within the reality competition category, which traditionally skews heavily toward men.
E!’s Kourtney & Khloe Take the Hamptons finished third as a cable reality rookie among viewers 18-49, premiering last fall and ending this past January.
Despite the numbers, executives said reality content can reach male viewers — provided the show presents an authentic depiction of the male experience as well as subject matter that appeals to men.
“There are still a lot of male viewers out there that want to watch television,” Pilgrim Studios CEO Craig Piligian said.
Piligian should know. His studio produces two male-skewing reality shows that appear on the list, including Discovery Channel’s auto-themed Street Outlaws and Fast N’ Loud — the latter of which has the largest share of male viewers of any show on the list at 71.8%.
Piligian, who is also behind such male-skewing reality shows as Fox Sports 1’s mixed martial arts-themed The Ultimate Fighter, believes the key to drawing male viewers is to provide strong stories and characters that appeal to men.
History’s Hoogstra said male-skewing shows also need to feature some process that men are interested in, whether it’s collecting antique cars and toys in American Pickers or alligator hunting in Swamp People.
“What we’ve done the best at is finding situations that are ongoing, whether or not there’s a show associated with it,” he said. “When we introduce a new world or a new set of characters and new information they tend to respond to it.”
History is hoping a new set of male-targeted series launched over the last couple of weeks — The Woodsmen, about men who live in the forests of the Pacific Northwest; Alone, a survival series; Forged in Fire, a competition series pitting world-class blade-smiths against one another; and car restoration- themed Leepu & Pitbull — will continue to attract young men to the network.
Discovery Channel, which airs six of the eight most male-skewing shows on the top 30 list, has been successful in reaching male viewers without the benefit of sports-themed programming. Yet Matt Kelly, network vice president of development and production, said some of the network’s most popular shows (like mining-themed Gold Rush) have sports elements within the storylines that bring in male viewers.
“With Gold Rush, it’s a story of who’s up and who’s down — you’re constantly checking the characters and keeping score along the way, which really resonates with men,” he said. “We’re not building fake stakes here, so if you tell it in an organic way, it’s really about a sporting event in terms of who’s winning and losing.”
IT’S ALSO ABOUT CO-VIEWING
Other shows like competition series Naked and Afraid, in which male and female co-leads work together to survive a difficult outdoor environment, not only bring in core male viewers but help the network increase its reach to women, which helps draw a broader range of advertisers.
“Each show has to move the needle a little more, whether it’s younger or more female, while still speaking to the core,” Kelly said.
Some female-skewing networks are also turning to the reality genre to appeal to more male viewers. A&E has teamed up with Orion Entertainment (Building Alaska) for Brotherhood, a reality series in development about a family-run lodge in Alaska. The series features a strong male patriarch that the network hopes men will identify with, according to Chris Dorsey, founding partner at Orion Entertainment, the series’ studio producer.
“I think there’s always a different viewpoint on almost any subject,” Dorsey said. “If you want to introduce more male viewers you have to introduce a male character that becomes the mirror that you hold up to the male audience — he has to be credible and not a caricature.”
Whatever the genre, Discovery’s Kelly said male viewers will only tune in if the characters are believable and if they see something of themselves and their interests in the overall storyline.
“Authenticity is everything,” he said. “It’s about the contract that we have with the audience to make sure that the experience feels authentic to them.” A.J. Katz is the editor of Ratings Intelligence, a NewBay Media-owned ratings analysis website. Visit the site at www.ratingsintel.com.
STUDIOS TO WATCH
From the 2015 Ratings Intelligence analysis of cable’s 30 top-rated reality shows, here are three show producers whose shops stood out:
EMBASSY ROW: From AMC’s Talking Dead to Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, E!’s The Grace Helbig Show, to NBCSN’s Men in Blazers — and even Fox Sports 1’s short-lived Crowd Goes Wild — Embassy Row reigns supreme over the cable talk show landscape. The Sony Pictures TV-based shop is run by super-producer- turned soccer commentator Michael Davies. In addition to its impressive lineup of talkers, “companion programs,” and the Jerry Seinfeld-hosted Web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Embassy Row is also known for its game shows. After all, Davies cut his teeth as the executive producer of ABC’s U.S version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The company is known for its extensive portfolio of game shows, including credits such as The World Series of Pop Culture for VH1, GSN’s The Newlywed Game, Pyramid and The American Bible Challenge, among others. — A.J. Katz
MONAMI ENTERTAINMENT: Monami Entertainment is the creative force behind cable’s top-rated reality franchise: Love & Hip Hop. Run by Mona Scott- Young, Monami’s programs have almost singlehandedly allowed VH1 to stay relevant in the primetime cable landscape. Season three of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta is the highest-rated installment of the franchise, and currently stands as cable’s second-highest-rated reality program over the past 12 months (after Talking Dead). Season four of Atlanta was down from three, but still ranks as a top five reality program during the same time span, and often won Monday nights in the 18-49 demographic. The fifth season of the original Love & Hip Hop: New York is a top 15 unscripted cable program, sitting right behind rookie spinoff Love & Hip Hop Hollywood in the 18-49 hierarchy. The most-recent season of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta Afterparty Live (the companion to Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta) stands as a top-20 reality program over the past 12 months. Season one of K. Michelle: My Life, a spinoff of Atlanta featuring one of its lead personalities, aired last November and December, and stands as a top-25 cable reality program. It returns for its sophomore season later this year. — A.J. Katz
PILGRIM STUDIOS: Pilgrim Studios is one of the most successful and prolific producers of unscripted reality shows on both cable and broadcast television. The company offers more than 25 reality show that run the gamut of genres including car-themed shows like Discovery Channel’s Fast N’ Loud to mixed martial arts shows like Ultimate Fighter. While Pilgrim’s more widely-known content skews more male, the studio also has a feminine touch with programming like OWN’s Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s, which follows the soul food business of an African-American St. Louis woman. Under the tutelage of CEO Craig Piligian, the studio is also breaking out into scripted fare with the fall launch of Recovery Road on ABC Family. The series chronicles the plight of a young woman recovering from substance abuse. — R. Thomas Umstead