Reality TV Ratings Are Down, But the Genre's Not Out

To almost no one's surprise, too many TV reality shows are causing a glut and lowering reality ratings.

It seems even reality is not immune to the laws of network television physics. Big deal.

Average ratings for top reality shows -- "The Apprentice 2," "The Bachelor," "Fear Factor," "America's Next Top Model," and "Last Comic Standing" -- are down. Press reports blame a glut of reality shows -- now at 17 hours per week on network television - as the cause of weakening reality show viewership.

But the focus is on average ratings for big name reality shows. What's not being considered is that there are more total gross ratings points for reality than ever before. That's good news for the reality TV genre.

We shouldn't be surprised that broadcast television's market forces have always applied to reality shows as it does scripted series. And now the reality genre is mature - especially after a couple of years in existence. That means advertisers have put away biases that reality is lesser quality TV and regularly buy reality as they do scripted series.

The genre isn't going away. Given that there are still lower general entry costs for networks with reality - in terms of license fees and development time devoted to scripted programming - one can only expect more, not less reality even with declining ratings.

Since reality makes up more of the network's schedules than it has in the past - now 16 percent - it is natural that it feels the effect of what has been going on in network programming for the last two decades. Reality shows are getting nibbled by network ratings erosion, which runs anywhere from 3 percent to 5 percent per year.

Even the king of reality, CBS' "Survivor," doesn't perform as the top-rated show among all primetime programs. However, the show, now in its ninth edition, still regularly posts a steady top 10 adult 18 to 49 average rating at season's end.

Sure, there are a number of new failures this season, including "The Benefactor," "The Complex: Malibu," "Renovate My Family," and boxing series "The Next Great Champ." But equally, newcomers are climbing, including ABC's sophomore "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Wife Swap," as well as Fox's copycat "Trading Spouses."

So reality TV gets a big dose of... guess what?

But this is no surprise -- just predictably real for the course.

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