By: Tiffany Vogt
If past decade of television has taught us anything, it is that reality television is here to stay. Although interest in reality television has waned a bit in recent years, the same can be said of scripted television shows. Ratings have declined on all fronts – it is not exclusive to either reality television or scripted television.
So such decline has led to speculation about what will be the next big thing. What will be the determining factor to reshape television as we know it? With the popularity of reality television since 2000, it has been hard to see that a brand new arena of content has sprung up under our noses.
Also increasingly popular in the past decade has been the proliferation of social networking. Whether it be MySpace, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, the internet has broken out as the next big thing. Not content to sit in front of a television, teenagers today are consuming their entertainment via their iPods and iPhones. Thus, televised media has morphed into web media. One cannot only watch television shows on the ‘net, one can now watch a whole array of original content created specifically for the web.
It is still uncertain how to make such original content viable from a profit perspective, but despite the dubious certainty of economic gain, it has not stopped entrepreneurial minds from venturing out and staking a claim on the web. It is cheap, it is accessible — and there are millions of untapped potential in viewers searching for something to watch and interact with.
On the cutting edge of this vast landscape are such pioneers as SANCTUARY, THE GUILD, THE LEGEND OF NEIL, DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-A-LONG BLOG, and CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL. Newer fare includes breakouts like RIESE and VAMPIRE MOB. Interestingly, SANCTUARY started as a web sensation and leapt to the television screen; and RIESE hopes to follow suit. But for the likes of THE GUILD and DR. HORRIBLE, they are content to rule the ‘net. They are super-stars in their own arena – virtually unchallenged, though there does seem to be a lot of renewed interest in creating original content for the web.
With an unprecedented number of scripted dramas trying to make the leap from television to the web and aiming to secure their audience on both platforms (like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s webisodes), it is not surprising that reality television is also dipping their toe in the internet waters and trying to see if their audience will follow – or if they too can tap into the vast number of internet lurkers in search of something to entertain.
With the constraints of YouTube being limited to just a few minutes, the appeal of Hulu has caught the attention of one new enterprising reality series. Looking to find more innovative ways to market their products without buying expensive television ads, Ford Motor Company is taking the big step towards the future by launching its series “Focus Rally: America” directly on Hulu in February 2011.
What is “Focus Rally: America”? In searching for ways to make product placement more interactive, Ford teamed up with the producers of “The Amazing Race” to create a road race phenomenon directly for broadcast on Hulu.
Borrowing and combining the best elements from the iconic film THE AMAZING RACE and the reality television show of the same name, and then mixing in Ford’s cutting-edge vision of cars of the future, “Focus Rally: America” seeks to be both a cross-country race and a treasure hunt along the way. They want to make the series an adventure for both the contestants and the fans whether watching at home on their computers or on their iPhones. With fans able to win prizes along with the race participants, the entire web experience is designed to be an interactive way to engage the fans and make them more fully vested in the race – not just in who wins, but also in how they can help along the way and get goodies, freebies and prizes for their contributions.
This is product placement and promotion at its finest. With manufacturers still struggling for innovative ways to integrate their products into the existing television landscape without being too obvious and intrusive – and not making their products a laughing-stock in the process – sponsorship has become a much more subtle and appreciated approach to advertising. Such shows like FX’s “Damages” relied heavily on sponsorship by big names such as General Motor’s Cadillac. Rather than try to place their product in the show and be ridiculed for such blatant manipulation of the viewers, General Motors just announced that it was sponsoring the show and stuck its name up at the beginning and end of each episode. It was a much more sophisticated approach.
Looking to take the next step, Ford’s attempt to more fully integrate its product by making a direct-for-the-net series showcasing its new Focus vehicles and their fun new capabilities, it designed an entire show around its product. Not looking to capitalize on the already inundated television market, it also seeks to break new ground by being the first web series to launch directly on Hulu. Ford does not want “Focus Rally: America” to compete with shows like TOP GEAR and THE AMAZING RACE; it wants to create a new arena to play in – and it has invited fans with a passion for cars, racing and treasuring hunting to join them.
Taking a page off other successful reality television shows playbooks, Ford has also recruited a hot young fresh face to be the spokesperson for its series. It recruited Olympic ski champion Jonny Moseley to be the face of “Focus Rally: America.” Undaunted by his limited background in car racing, Jonny’s enthusiasm is certain to be infectious for viewers. It will be interesting to see how this new series fares and if viewers jump on board this new approach to web content and interactive reality type shows.
It is noteworthy that for over a decade the encroachment of reality television has chafed at the sensibilities of discriminating television viewers. To help alleviate such tension between those who enjoy such programming and those who avoid it like the plague, internet programming may offer a solution. If more original programming (whether it be scripted or reality based) were to be offered on the ‘net, it may pave the way for more programming — and not the ultra-competitive and restrictive number of limited primetime television slots.
As the saying goes, “the world is our oyster.” While television is a closed universe with limited time slots, the internet is open territory. It can host an unlimited number of new shows and at very little cost. Exploring the ability to introduce more original content for the ‘net is an exciting opportunity and it is great to see that advertisers and manufacturers are willing to jump right in. Kudos to Ford for taking the risk and creating new content for viewers in the new world. Plus, to be invited on an interactive treasure hunt is divine!
Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to The TV Addict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).