Whether it’s trying to appeal to the seemingly elusive Gen Z audience or battling scripted hits for eyeballs, it’s vital for unscripted producers and their network partners to opt for creativity instead of comfort, says Endemol Shine Group chief creative officer Peter Salmon.
Every day it seems there is another headline about how younger audiences just don’t watch TV any more.
All around the world, broadcasters are focusing on that all-important Generation Z audience, eager to create brand loyalty at an early stage of life.
But in the battle for younger viewers it’s important to remember that their affection for the small screen hasn’t gone away — it’s just not always the one in the corner of the living room.
They are still watching television, but consuming it on different devices, and with 5G on the horizon it’s never been easier to watch what you want, when you want.
Non-scripted formats have a vital role to play in winning over this new audience. But they will only succeed if they adopt a truly multi-platform approach, reaching out to the digital playgrounds in which younger viewers spend their spare time.
Producers and commissioners have to think from the beginning about how a new show will work on the likes of YouTube and Facebook.
If younger viewers catch a show on one platform and they like it, there’s hard evidence they will seek it out wherever it is on — and that includes linear. It is not a zero sum game. For example, in Spain, we relaunched Operación Triunfo (Star Academy) on the main public broadcaster channel, RTVE, after several years off air. It was a big hit.
Our producers complimented the linear experience with YouTube highlights and 14 hours of livestreaming online, creating huge amounts of social engagement.
The livestream hashtag trended from day one and the YouTube channel averaged more than 150 million views a month, helping to deliver a tripling of the number of adults aged 13 to 24 — up 328% — watching the show on RTVE in primetime.
This 360-degree approach transforms a show into a 24/7 experience, which in turn helps create those big, live watercooler moments such as the finales of Operación Triunfo or Love Island in the UK, made by ITV Studios for ITV2, which put social media at the core of its stunning reinvention.
It’s exciting, creative, and often challenging. But there’s nothing like feeling uncomfortable to do your best work, and if there’s one place TV can’t afford to be right now, it’s the comfort zone.
At Endemol Shine we want to take a similar all-embracing approach to factual entertainment shows such as The Island, Hunted, El Puente (The Bridge) in Spain and our new, high-stakes series Heist, for which we also have global ambitions.
Of course, making non-scripted content more immersive for a younger generation isn’t the only challenge we’re facing as producers working in this genre.
Writing this, I was reminded of a conversation I had recently with a leading European program controller. When I asked what he was particularly looking forward to in the new schedule, he reeled off about 12 scripted pieces.
Now, I know we live in the “golden age of scripted” and we are hugely proud to produce such shows as Peaky Blinders, Black Mirror, Bron and Dark, but it was interesting that this controller didn’t mention a single non-scripted title.
When people talk about current TV, there is a danger that the non-scripted arena can be totally overshadowed by drama, and that’s unfair.
Non-scripted does a great job across the schedule every night, and it’s a tool that can be engineered, sculpted and aimed at particular demographics in a way that is not so easily true of most drama.
Moreover, the success of Queer Eye on Netflix has not only shown us that classic formats with cultural resonance are able to cut through in a crowded market, but also, they can be binge -watched by viewers, echoing drama’s ‘box set’ appeal.
Non-scripted shows — and their producers — can be at the frontier of the new TV landscape, by debunking the notion that linear broadcasting is in terminal decline among younger viewers, and by embracing fresh, new ways of reaching the audience.
Unscripted formats work remarkably well in this tough environment by remaining nimble and flexible, and innovating with big ideas. We have to be prepared to kick out against the old ways and disrupt the preconceived norms that have governed our industry for decades.
I’m aware this might not be the most Generation Z terminology, but you have to be a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Edgy, occasionally rebellious, not afraid to get things wrong. Exciting, of the moment, ever-changing. And living in the now.