Call it morbid curiosity, or, better yet, “rubbernecking.” Whatever you call it, it seems to be endemic to drivers worldwide. Sad but true, most people tend to slow down and peer at accident scenes on the highway.
But what does that have to do with the world of international TV? Well, it’s that same attraction to tragedy that has fueled the success of a worldwide channel dedicated mostly to crash-and-burn reality TV.
Launched in December 1999, Reality TV is one of the fastest-growing international channel brands worldwide. In just four years, it has gained distribution in more than 125 territories and claims 35 million subscribers.
In 2003, Reality TV launched services in India, Latin America, the Philippines, Ireland and Israel and is currently launching in the United States. It is available throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. In all territories, Reality TV carries a mix of programming, from natural disasters to medical emergencies and everyday mishaps. But the man behind the operation stresses that tastes for reality can vary vastly from country to country.
“When we launched in India, we realized that some of the racier reality shows -- ‘Cheaters’ for example -- would be culturally unacceptable there,” says Chris Wronski, chairman and president of London-based Zone Vision, parent company of Reality TV, and the creator of the enterprise. “(‘Cheaters’) exposes cheating spouses. We (reach) 14 million homes in India, so it’s an important market for us, and we have to be careful not to offend anybody.”
The Indian channel therefore includes a good deal of locally made “fly-on-the-wall” reality shows as well as the usual mix of nonscripted, real-life drama programming from the United States and other territories. Currently, Zone Vision has programming agreements with such international distributors as CBS, GRB Entertainment, RDF Media, BBC Worldwide and Rive Gauche International Television.
Even within Europe, tastes and standards vary, Wronski says. “For example, we have a show from Spain called ‘Impacto TV’ that gets in close (on accident scenes) and shows more blood than you would normally see. In Central Europe, that’s something that is expected, but in the United Kingdom that would not be acceptable.”
Brits like ‘Cops’
So what do the British like when it comes to their daily dose of reality? “Cops.” British audiences are enthralled with the daily doings of cops in cities throughout the United States, in particular with the often bizarre offenders they deal with, Wronski says. “It’s just more dramatic than some of the reality TV shows that originate there,” he says, adding that it’s also a far cry from the typical British Bobby’s working day.
Wronski stresses that although reality television travels much better than most genres, the success of his company depends on being extremely aware of cultural boundaries when it comes to programming on a worldwide basis. “There is always a lot of discussion before the launch of a channel in order to make sure that we would not offend anybody. But it’s also critical to make sure that the programming we do air in a specific market has the greatest possible appeal. It takes about a year for us to get ready for each one of the territories that we enter, and of course we always have a local team working in that territory.”
Why does Wronski believe that Reality TV is such a favorite of viewers everywhere? “Well somebody once observed that reality is stranger than fiction, and it is. This is true drama, real human beings. But in many cases — such as ‘Rescue 911’ — it’s also about people risking their lives to save people, and that can be inspiring. It’s not always about accidents on the motorway.”