Fox Reality, betting
on repeat business
On its face, network
seems like a dumb idea
By Kevin Downey
Reality shows are
a bust when it comes to getting people to watch repeats, and that would
seem to be an insurmountable problem for cable upstart Fox Reality.
But the rerun-dependent network has a lot riding on proving
otherwise. Two months ago, Fox Reality had the biggest cable launch in at
least four years with more than 18 million subscribers. Fox obviously believes in it, and it
was able to sell it widely enough to make a go of it.
But that said, how do you give reality TV a second
Snip and spice.
The new network's creative minds are taking a cue from how
movies and TV shows are repackaged for DVD sales. The idea is to make old
reality shows seem new again, appealing to viewers who’ve seen the shows
and those who haven’t, by adding extra footage and asides that didn’t
air the first time around. David Lyle thinks it will work not only for
hits shows like Fox’s “Joe Millionaire” but such bombs as CBS’s
“We’re unearthing footage that wasn’t used,” says
Lyle, who is chief operating officer and general manager of Fox Reality.
“In some cases we’re going back to contestants to ask what they were
thinking. With ‘Joe Millionaire,’ at the end of most segments, we have
a reality-revealed moment where Evan Marriott or Paul the Butler or
someone tells us what they were doing and what they were thinking.”
He also says some programs that had been edited to be upbeat will air on Fox Reality with sexier and darker footage tacked on. Lyle
points to Fox’s “Love Cruise,” which had sexy content and contestant
backstabbing cut out shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
It needs something to draw viewers in. Reality does not do
well in repeats on broadcast. In fact, it rarely airs in repeats. ABC's
"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," for example, averaged a 6.5
adults 18-49 rating for originals and a 4.9 for repeats this past season,
according to Horizon. That's a dip of 24.6 percent, worse than for comedy
reruns like ABC's "George Lopez" at 17.9 percent or CBS's
"King of Queens" at 19.4 percent.
The network is also trying to overcome viewer disinterest in
reality repeats by rolling out programs from other countries. It will also
show the full run of several bombs the broadcast networks yanked before
airing the finale episodes.
“We already have some like ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ and
‘The Will,’ and we’re gathering others that didn’t complete their
runs. We may band them together, [saying] ‘At last you can see the final
In case none of these strategies attract an audience, Fox Reality,
like virtually all cable networks these days, has a backup plan.
Lyle says while repeats of previously broadcast reality shows
will for some time make up the bulk of the network’s lineup, Fox Reality
this fall will add some original programming. The network, which isn’t
promoting itself while it’s getting initial feedback from viewers, plans
to launch a multimedia campaign around that time.
“Originals will be an important part of the mix but I can’t say
what percentage that will be,” he says. “We will be doing a sort of
world-of-reality review show. And then we’ll have one or two original
series after that, but I don’t know yet what they’ll be.”
Whether or not any of these strategies prove effective in
luring viewers won’t be known for some time. Fox Reality doesn’t
expect to have its audience measured by Nielsen Media Research for another
year or more.
In a television landscape with
300-plus channels, Fox Reality isn’t expecting to generate big ratings
anytime soon. And most media people say it doesn’t need to. The
network’s primary goal for the next few years will be to build its
distribution to 30 million to 40 million homes, roughly the point at which
national advertisers take notice. Lyle says he expects Fox Reality to be
in about 25 million homes one year from now.
Media researchers like Brad Adgate, senior vice president
and corporate research director at Horizon Media, think the network stands
a good chance of succeeding.
He notes that the network has the luxury of being distributed to
millions of homes by its sister company, direct broadcast satellite
service DirecTV. The network is also carried by satellite service EchoStar
and cable systems like Adelphia and Insight Communications.
Moreover, Adgate says that despite some media pundits proclaiming
reality is past its prime, the genre continues to draw big ratings.
“To me this network is a no-brainer,” he says. “You can say
what you want about reality but shows like [the WB’s] ‘Beauty and the
Geek’ prove if it’s done well people will watch it.”
July 15, 2005
Kevin Downey is a staff writer for