16 November 2011

Why is Britain the Global Leader in Reality TV Shows?

According to The Economist the United Kingdom dominates the reality TV industry:
Hollywood may create the world’s best TV dramas, but Britain dominates the global trade in unscripted programmes—quiz shows, singing competitions and other forms of reality television. “Britain’s Got Talent”, a format created in 2006, has mutated into 44 national versions, including “China’s Got Talent” and “Das Supertalent”. There are 22 different versions of “Wife Swap” and 32 of “Masterchef”. In the first half of this year, Britain supplied 43% of global entertainment formats—more than any other country (see chart).
Why is Britain so dominant in reality TV?

The answer, you might be surprised to learn, is government innovation policy. Again, The Economist:
Like financial services, television production took off in London as a result of government action. In the early 1990s broadcasters were told to commission at least one-quarter of their programmes from independent producers. In 2004 trade regulations ensured that most rights to television shows are retained by those who make them, not those who broadcast them. Production companies began aggressively hawking their wares overseas.
A key aspect of innovation success has actually been the ability to shield innovators from the immediacy of the market, thus creating a space for novelty, and also for failure:
Many domestic television executives do not prize commercial success. The BBC is funded almost entirely by a licence fee on television-owning households. Channel 4 is funded by advertising but is publicly owned. At such outfits, success is measured largely in terms of creativity and innovation—putting on the show that everyone talks about. In practice, that means they favour short series. British television churns out a lot of ideas.
Reality TV offers some interesting lessons for success in innovation and the conditions that help to make that success possible, both absolutely and in a competitive market context.