Netflix is changing the game with its selection of next-level reality TV series. From explosively popular shows like Love Is Blind and Too Hot to Handle to The Circle, subscribers now have a handful of innovative competitions and dating shows — all at their fingertips, and they may just be the future of reality TV.
Let’s explore why this genre is a focus for Netflix viewers and how the streaming service is dominating with innovative content that explores how we view human connection.
Netflix has the streaming model down to a science with its personal recommendations and automatic play settings, living up to its legacy as the original “binging” platform — a defining element of today’s media culture. Even though the streaming service has soared in popularity since 2007, including its first Netflix produced original in 2013, audiences are still being drawn in with fresh and innovative content. Netflix Originals, library additions, algorithmic suggestions and now the country’s top 10 highest viewed series listed on the home screen keep the streaming service fresh. Subscribers have hours of stories all in one place and ready to go. This level of accessibility is a rush for any entertainment buff and instantly gives the power of choice to the viewer — an offer that is hard to refuse, even when sleep or a regular schedule is at risk. Netflix binging is officially a lifestyle choice.
Of course, it was not always this way. Audiences were once in perfect sync, tuning in on the exact same dates and times, with the expectation of following up on their favorite characters and most anticipated cliffhangers from the previous week. Season after season, dedication looked more like patience. Viewers would go on with their lives and possibly forget plot points or where things were left off. They would rely on reruns or recordings for any additional enjoyment. Cult classics like Friends or Seinfeld come to mind, where thousands tuned into their finales. Now, it feels like viewers look towards releases and expect each other to have finished up their newest seasons within the week or so — before connecting and discussing the latest with each other. Netflix offers more than just streaming, it offers total immersion, and this new pattern of entertainment consumption is a testament to the service’s success. The viewer ends up feeling consumed by a series almost immediately. Naturally, they also feel a part of the relationships they are witnessing on the screen, fictional or not. This is why Netflix’s reality shows work so well.
Reality TV was designed specifically with binging in mind, even before streaming platforms existed. From the start, with shows from the likes of networks TLC, E!, A&E and Bravo, reality TV has been a defining genre for our time. Despite being carefully curated by producers, the perspective is still very intimate and relatable — even voyeuristic at times. Viewers end up witnessing some of the most vulnerable moments in a person’s life, whether they are exciting or downright uncomfortable circumstances. No matter the scene, the audience feels as though they too are in the room. It’s human nature to want to connect and empathize, and considering the audience knows that these are real individuals with average lives, social media accounts and places in our shared world; it’s so much easier to feel invested. Viewers feel as though they know these people personally and want to keep up to date with their arcs.
It would only make sense that Netflix is now revamping the world of reality TV; in that it is flipping basic premises on their heads. The service’s series include the talked-about social experiment Love Is Blind, where participants get engaged without ever seeing their partner’s appearance; Too Hot to Handle, where attractive singles are challenged to a month’s stay at a dream destination without any physical contact; and, among many others, The Circle, where social influencers compete against each other digitally. All of these are intriguing and pull in viewers. There is enough buzz around these programs that their casts now have millions of followers on Instagram and are even household names for some. Why? Because every series feels like a journey that can be made within only days. Viewers can spend hours on end with real people they have never met and yet, feel like they have been on the same emotional roller coaster.
The relationship between reality TV and Netflix viewers was a match made in heaven. These series could be the most successful start yet to a new level of streaming, and viewers are in for the ride.
Netflix's approach to reality TV is changing the game in large part due to its binge model.