Dean Dezius
Oct 24, 2018

Why Asia loves reality TV, and why it matters to content creators

From cooking programs, to singing competitions, to outrageous dating shows that get the whole region talking, APAC viewers are voracious for televised drama that’s not limited by a script.

Asia's Next Top Model Season 6 contestants at this year's launch event in Bangkok
Asia's Next Top Model Season 6 contestants at this year's launch event in Bangkok

Viewers in Asia have fallen in love with reality television. Adaptations of beloved programs like The Voice, Asia’s Got Talent and Asia’s Next Top Model are soaring in the ratings game, and the region is also bringing brand new reality formats to the fore, such as the recent South Korean series Little Cabin in the Woods featuring big-name entertainment stars hanging out in an isolated cabin.

What’s behind consumers’ insatiable hunger for reality TV in Asia Pacific? In seeking to answer that question, it’s possible to understand not only why reality TV shows have become so popular, but also how content producers of all stripes can better deliver on the evolving demands of viewers in the region.  

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that when it’s done well, reality TV can be both localised and high-quality. Once upon a time, viewers in Asia were expected to watch content produced by and for a Western audience—but today, bringing Hollywood to the East just isn’t enough. People want to see relatable characters and situations on the small screen, to be immersed in a narrative that mirrors their culture, history and everyday life, populated with characters who resemble their family and friends.

Reality TV offers a unique proposition—speaking to the experience of people in Asia while employing world-class production values. Instead of spending big budget on a team of scriptwriters and well-known stars, producers can focus their efforts on how best to shine the spotlight on real people and places in the region. Reality competitions in Asia are seamlessly integrating on-screen challenges into some of the region’s most emblematic features, so we might see MasterChef Asia contestants serving canapés as they rotate on the giant Singapore Flyer Ferris Wheel, or aspiring models posing in the middle of Bangkok’s bustling Chatuchak Weekend Market on the set of Asia’s Next Top Model.

In this way, viewers in Asia are able to see another side of one of their region’s most dynamic destinations—a breath of fresh air when so many pop culture pieces are still wedded to Western settings like New York, Los Angeles and London.

Then, there’s the fact that reality TV is often less attached to one particular distribution format. This is highly appealing to viewers in Asia, who are blazing the trail for the multiscreen era. Consumers here take an “and-and” approach to their entertainment consumption; always looking for the best content across both linear and digital channels. Asia Pacific is leading worldwide growth in the pay TV market, while still boasting an equally vigorous landscape for online video.

Screen-agnostic viewers in Asia Pacific don’t care where they watch, as long as the content is fresh and relevant—and reality TV producers are ready to meet their demands. Rather than prioritise linear viewers, shows are coordinating online content posts with traditional TV broadcasting to better serve the needs of entertainment-hungry consumers at every touchpoint. Many reality shows are also taking their online footprint even further, providing digital access to behind-the-scenes exclusives, contestant interviews and more additional content for online viewing.

In Asia and beyond, reality TV is proving that it doesn’t take a massive budget or the biggest stars to create a hit series. Viewers want compelling narratives that respond to their own experiences, and they want the opportunity to consume content in a manner that makes sense for the multi-screen world.

As more and more reality shows take flight in Asia, it will be exciting to see how the next generation of programming continues to respond to evolving viewer demands. It’s also certainly possible that the lessons of reality TV will be put into practice by other types of content creators. Might we see more examples of fictional entertainment being localised for different Asian audiences, and made accessible via a broader range of digital platforms? It certainly seems likely. Indeed, shows such as the Chinese drama Go Princess Go, which is getting a Korean remake, are already leading the way forward in this practice of localising not only from West to East, but from one Asian content production hub to another.

Whatever the future holds for reality television and entertainment as a whole, one thing is clear—when real people are given a platform to share their own authentic stories, the result is great content.

Dean Dezius is the vice president of Entertainment Channels at FOX Networks Group Asia


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