Bargain-Bin Ad Pricing? The Cost Of Wannabee Reality Stars' Antics

Now, almost 10 years after a new program genre hit TV airwaves in the form of CBS' "Survivor," the off-air antics of some reality TV folks might be lessening the value of the category -- perhaps back to original discount pricing.

In the early years of reality TV, traditional TV marketers placed a discounted value on non-scripted programming -- even when scripted and non-scripted shows grabbed the exact same ratings.

Now, there are more stable, better-quality reality programs with consistent year-in, year-out track records: "Amazing Race," "Top Chef," "Project Runway," "Survivor," "America's Next Top Model,"  to name a few. 

But along with the growing number of shows comes more real-life incidents with reality TV associations -- stuff that is threatening to dramatically shrink the list of marketers TV ad sellers can target for specific shows.

Michaele and Tareq Salahi add to this problem. They're the Washington, D.C. couple who seem to have tried everything to become cast members of an upcoming spinoff of the Bravo franchise -- "The Real Housewives of D.C." But crashing a state dinner at the White House may be going too far.

Jon and Kate Gosselin gained fame through a TLC show about marriage with their eight children -- but that effort evolved into a tabloid-esque TV program many advertisers didn't sign up for.

Ryan Jenkins was a contestant on two VH1 shows who allegedly killed his ex-wife in August, stuffed her mutilated body in a suitcase and later hanged himself. How would you like to be the sponsor of those VH1 efforts?

Richard and Mayumi Heene created a faux script about their six-year-old being taken away in a balloon. Veterans of ABC's "Wife Swap," the Heenes were looking for more TV deals -- even if they broke the law.

The increased desperation of people to be on TV comes at the same time that TV ratings are falling. Perhaps the theory of TV as a perishable commodity is filtering down to the masses.

Despite the risks, few seem to see the downside. While the Heenes were in the midst of their court proceedings, they were scheduling meetings with media folk in New York City!

Bright marketing executives believe if the buzz is still active, surely people will watch. Who wouldn't want to see the Salahis getting grilled by some D.C. socialite about their alleged actions?

Cast the Salahis and Heenes as evil characters in some storylines? Oh, yeah. They'll be signed up as long as U.S. viewers will watch.

But what these devil-may-care contestants don't realize is that many TV advertisers still have old beliefs about a price discount for reality shows. Sleazy real-life characters add to that perception of cheapness.

Bob DeBitetto, general manager of A&E, has the right feel for this: "We're all in the business of selling ads. This can have a chilling impact on pricing. You don't want an entire genre to be weighed down because there are these unfortunate examples."

3 comments about "Bargain-Bin Ad Pricing? The Cost Of Wannabee Reality Stars' Antics".
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  1. Peter Schankowitz from Joe Digital, Inc., December 14, 2009 at 11:59 a.m.

    Interesting and well crafted analysis of what many of us have been pondering for a long time. We have produced reality TV though never along the lines of the examples proffered--mainly due to our taste, but also due to concern over the fallout discussed in this article. My guess is that the concerns expressed by the author will be well-founded, but only for so long. Like all TV genres, the pendulum seems to be swinging away from at least the very lowest common denominator stuff. We hear VH1 is weaning itself off the bottom of the barrel dreck---a sure sign that the Four Horsemen and the Rapture are still a ways off. :) In place of this? I would say, expect a return to more traditional fare such as game shows (we just sold one!), genuine story driven reality (I have always called the garbage "assisted reality"), and more entertainment driven projects. For brands, this will mean a wider choice of places to plant their flag.

    The bigger issues is whether brands will begin to genuinely embrace true integration and whether they will be willing to do so while (1) projecting brand story and (2) doing so while letting the creative professionals do what they do best.

  2. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, December 14, 2009 at 12:49 p.m.

    As President Obama said on "60 Minutes" last night, "It [the WH gate crashers] was maybe the 5th or 6th most important story of the week, but it received the most media time." Countries, like people, tend to reap what they sow.

  3. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, December 15, 2009 at 3:51 a.m.

    Advertisers would know they'd be getting more, not less, good exposure if these contestants did something that would cause viewing to go through the roof. Viewers would not fault the advertisers for somehow supporting a crime that was committed after the fact.

    So I'd keep ad prices where the market wants them.

    Sponsoring an actual person like Tiger Woods, rather than a show, might reflect more on a brand. He didn't commit murder but his sponsors would have more to be concerned about.

    So there should be lower sponsor fees. Tiger was getting too much money, probably because everyone wanted someone of his demographic to be perfect.

    Ironically, while many of these other supposedly "damaged goods" personalities are craving media attention, Tiger Woods has made the biggest marketing mistake possible by not proactively getting his side of the story out. Marketing 101 says you have to get out in front of the story and ride the news cycles or someone else will do it for you, without your best interest in mind.

    Tiger could have saved a sponsor or two by sitting in front of interviewers if only to continue to reiterate that his personal life was none of the public's business. Then again, he has only lost one sponsor so far.

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