Who Will Win Dancing On Ice 2019?

I’ve no idea, but I’ve had a few inquiries about providing my thoughts on the celebrity – skating professional pairings, and I realized my responses have little to do with skating and more to do with my thoughts on reality TV. I care deeply about the skating and art, but it somewhat ancillary to these questions.

Now, I know reality TV in the UK is huge – and many of the most popular reality shows had their beginnings in the UK – and I’m not going to try to account for cultural differences. So, if you’re curious about my thoughts, read on. If not, that’s OK too – just read something else!

Let me also say up front, this first post turned out to be a tad serious and dark – I promise they won’t all be like this, but it is helpful to consider the basis of what one is writing about.

Some of the more observant among you may have noticed a phrase on one of my social media accounts: Remember, Reality TV is Not Reality. (If you haven’t, take a look & let me know when you’ve found it.)

We generally all know this is true, yet we – as a society – are somewhat obsessed by reality TV shows, whether they are based on unknowns rising to celebrity status or celebrities vying against each other in competition. What is this genre of entertainment really and why are we so drawn to the screen when it is on?

First, it is Entertainment – not Reality. And, it is entertainment broadcast by global companies seeking to generate profits (you know, all those adverts you complain about). Huge marketing, advertising, publishing, PR, etc. industries have developed around these shows to support that primary goal. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with that, but it helps to keep this in perspective when you are watching these shows.

Why? Because the supposed reality you see is generally controlled by the company. Take a look at this, about an early reality TV show:

“Expedition: Robinson, a Swedish reality-television program, premièred in the summer of 1997, with a tantalizing premise: sixteen strangers are deposited on a small island off the coast of Malaysia and forced to fend for themselves. To survive, they must cooperate, but they are also competing: each week, a member of the ensemble is voted off the island, and the final contestant wins a grand prize….The first contestant who was kicked off was a young man named Sinisa Savija. Upon returning to Sweden, he was morose, complaining to his wife that the show’s editors would “cut away the good things I did and make me look like a fool.” Nine weeks before the show aired, he stepped in front of a speeding train…The producers dealt with this tragedy by suggesting that Savija’s turmoil was unrelated to the series—and by editing him virtually out of the show. Even so, there was a backlash... But everyone watched the show anyway, and Savija was soon forgotten.”

Keefe, Patrick Radden, How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success, The New Yorker (7 Jan 2019) (emphasis added).

Well, that’s rather shocking, isn’t it? It clearly warrants more thought, but for this purpose, I considered the goal of the editing. It is to generate better ratings, which is attractive to advertisers, which generates greater profit, and so on. So, what is aired will depend on the viewing demographic and desired demographic. Who watches the show? What age range? What income and educational level? What makes the show most appealing to that demographic?

None of this is a secret. We all know this when we sit down in front of one of these shows to relax after a hard day of work. But, how is all this decided? Cue another main aspect of reality TV:

Second, it is Interactive. Again, this is no secret, but it is genius! Entertainment has long been moving toward greater interactivity, from shows that directed children’s games and cooking shows years ago, to reality TV, to developing VR – and even (my personal favorite) – MMORPG. What we do and choose influences the outcome. These reality shows are no Black Mirror: Bandersnatch but viewers still make choices and provide information that influences the shows.

Which demographic is more active voting? In social media comments? Is it the desired viewing demographic? Is there a way to influence that? We all know – and it’s in the news constantly – how much personal information we share on social media, and how is used in algorithms for marketing. In the case of reality shows, it is a constant feedback loop of giving the viewers what they want, with a goal of increasing ratings and desirability to advertisers.

I vividly remember when this point was driven home to me: I was interviewing at an advertising company, supposedly for a “creative” position. The founder and CEO disabused me of any notions of creativity. He explained that he had spent years toiling on creatives for campaigns, only to later develop an algorithm that allowed him to work much less and make much more money. Not what I wanted to hear, but it is so true.

Again, nothing inherently wrong with this – we are influencing what we view, presumably to view more of what we want to see. The algorithms make that easier to parse.

So, this is what I was thinking about when asked what I thought of the celebrity – skating professional pairings on this season’s Dancing On Ice. What do each of these celebrities, and the pairings, bring to the show that is seemingly appealing to viewers? I’ll try to describe some of those factors in my next post (skating is one of them!), and discuss how they apply to the teams.

If you have any questions or comments, please comment below. I’ll do my best to reply. However, nasty comments, spam and such will be deleted – my discretion. I’m happy to engage in dialogue, but you won’t find me trash talking Dancing On Ice, the celebrities or skating professionals here, and I won’t have that on my website.

If there’s interest, I’ll keep posting through the season, and maybe answer questions via podcast or Instagram live, etc. Let me know what you like, and don’t like – and, going back to the art, take a look around the rest of my web page and let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading!

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Matej Silecky