Talent shows cook up new formulas

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Talent shows cook up new formulas

Talent competition shows are the latest can’t miss TV fare, dwarfing other programming. For example, cable TV shows “Superstar K2” and “Superstar K3” have captured 18.1 percent and 15.5 percent of viewers in their time slots, respectively, compared to the 2 percent of cable TV music shows that feature only the most popular current songs.

Following on the heels of similar programming in the U.K. and U.S., what started as 10 programs has escalated into 44 today. The current contests include not only singing but also acting, cooking and starting a business - and as the programming popularity has increased, so has the prize money, reaching up to 1.2 billion won ($1.03 million).

Not surprisingly, that has generated legions of hopefuls and more buzz about the shows. For “Superstar K3,” there were about 1.97 million applicants.

The success factors of reality competition programs can be summarized by three keywords: empathy, creativity, and fairness. Used effectively, these qualities can be leveraged in the nonentertainment industry, too.

Empathy is generated by focusing on the contestants’ lives, their background, their struggles and their preparation for the next round of make-or-break competition. Emotional support is formed across the whole spectrum of viewers. The content also strikes a chord with all generations.

Unlike conventional entertainment programs, which are dominated by idol groups, the contest shows appeal to the young, middle and older generations.

The highly popular “I Am a Singer” took nostalgia a step further by challenging veteran singers instead of amateurs to sing oldies.

Secondly, there is fairness in competition. Unlike past song festivals, which used nationality, academic background and age to restrict the field of contestants, today’s competition shows open the door to any and all challengers.

By allowing viewers to make key decisions, the talent shows are more democratic. Viewers not only select the song category, they decide who continues to the next round and police the way the contest is run.

In one round of “I Am a Singer,” a contestant stumbled but was given a second chance, igniting a wave of indignation. Netizen’s complaints were so vociferous that the show’s producer had to be replaced to assuage viewers.

The shows emphasize creativity. When a song category is chosen, for example, contestants are required to go beyond imitating original performers. They must demonstrate their own creativity because viewers expect to hear and see the contestant’s own originality, style and uniqueness.

Success of the shows has expanded the local music industry. K-pop has surfed the Korean Wave of recent years on the back of the systematic training system of music management companies.

However, it is dominated by dance music for listeners in their late teens and twenties. To maximize its appeal, the K-pop industry should reformulate content so that it is not overly tilted to a certain genre or age group.

The talent shows demonstrate that there is ample room for pop classics and nostalgia to capture older music lovers.

Along with this, Korea should look at building on the success of “I Am a Singer” in selling TV programming formats to overseas broadcasters. Extensive investment and energy will be required, but the payoff could be considerable.

While TV singing contests have been well established around the world, the format of “I Am a Singer” - established singers competing - offered a new twist.

The format already has been sold for $1 million to the U.S. and China, and other nations have also shown interest in acquiring it.

Companies should explore ways to utilize the success factors of TV competition shows in boosting empathy with consumers and encouraging consumers’ participation in product development and problem-solving.

*The writer is a research fellow at the technology and industry research department at the Samsung Economic Research Institute. For more SERI reports, please visit www.seriworld.org.

By Seo Min-soo

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