The Economics of Reality TV

Austan Goolsbee explains:

Yet I can seldom get past the question of how we got here — how America lost interest in scripted shows and came to embrace all manner of reality television and its who-sang-what-song, who-ate-what-bug ethos.

Some say it’s just that people now lack the attention span for old-style television or that our tastes have changed.

Most insiders point out that reality shows cost much less to make than scripted shows, and, they argue, this is just a profit play by the broadcast networks.

But that does not explain why reality shows did not take over television long ago — why, back in the day, “Star Search” never became “American Idol.” Surely the broadcast networks wanted to save money back then, too.

In his book “Switching Channels” (Harvard University Press, 2005), Richard E. Caves, the don of entertainment economics and professor emeritus at Harvard, blames (or credits, depending how old you are) cable and satellite providers and the way they have changed the broadcast networks’ incentives to invest in programming.

Read the whole thing.

One response to “The Economics of Reality TV

  1. I want to check that book out! I have a school for people who want to work in reality TV. The genre has needed formal training for a while now. Reality TV oriented classes are becoming available at the university level. My business, http://www.realitycrew.com is just another example that, for what ever reason this style of unscripted TV has flourished, it’s going to around for a long time….

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