Big Brother Nation: Reality TV Has Conquered the Hearts of Israeli Viewers

Reality programming is the biggest thing on the small screen in Israel, with a full 50 percent of TV shows in Israel now going unscripted.

Israelis love their reality TV. So much so, in fact, that according to a new study by the French company Mediametrie, a full 50 percent of Israeli television programming is of the unscripted variety.

Compare that to the rest of the world, where 13 percent of leading programming is reality fare, and you begin to see just how much Israelis love their Survivors, Master Chefs and Big Brothers.

Israeli broadcasting laws dictate that only a certain percentage of programming can be reality shows, but despite the regulation, the airwaves are still flooded with what is most loved. That includes "Big Brother," "The race to the Million," "The Voice," and other shows featuring normal folks.

But while what some might call the lowest common denominator continues to dominate programming, there is an even more alarming piece of data in the French report. Not a single current-events, documentary or political program managed to scrape its way into the Top 10, whereas around the world in 2012, 17 percent of the leading programs were news broadcasts.

The five highest rated programs in Israel were "The Parliament," about a group of four friends who meet weekly and hilarity ensues; "Avodah Aravit," Sayed Kashua's satirical look at life in Israel from the perspective of an Arab family; "Hatufim," Gideon Raff's much-heralded predecessor to the massive American hit "Homeland"; "Eretz Nehaderet," Israel's spoof-filled, gut-busting version of "Saturday Night Live"; and "Matzav Ha'Uma" its fellow Jon Stewart-esque entertainment show.

Other nations have significantly more varied programming schedules. Take, for example, Italy. Of the three leading programs on their slate, two are music events and one is Roberto Benigni's political show. Only one reality show appears on the top 10 list.

In Holland, the birthplace of Big Brother, four reality shows made it to the top 10 in 2012. Alongside them, however, appear two news programs, one magazine program and the broadcasts of the Olympic Games.

Israelis' tastes are also different than their European peers when it comes to the rate of cable and satellite TV watching. In 2012, Israelis devoted 31 percent of their screen time to free commercial channels and 69% to other channels, meaning the paid multi-channel television available from satellite providers HOT and Yes.

For the sake of comparison, in Germany the rate of cable channel viewing is only 23.4 percent and in Britain it stands at 39 percent. Israelis' bias toward the cable and satellite channels stems from the deep market penetration of these services and from the relatively small number of commercial channels.

Across the globe in 2012, people watched more television. The average amount of daily television watching grew by one minute, to top out at three hours and 17 minutes. In Israel, the average is pretty much on par with the average in Europe – three hours and 53 minutes a day, which is up by one minute from last year. But as in many Western countries, younger people aged 15 to 24 are watching less television, an average of only 2 hours and four minutes a day.

Two thousand and twelve was a devastating year for Israeli franchises, with a drastic drop felt in revenues, partly because of the social protests of 2011. It is estimated that the three franchisees – Reshet, Keshet and Channel 10 taken together – felt a decline of about 20 percent in revenue in 2012, and cumulative losses of NIS 150 million.

And while paid television has been growing in Europe, the same has not happened in the Holy Land. HOT experienced a 1 percent drop in revenue from the television sector, to NIS 2.27 million in 2012, whereas Yes chalked up an increase of 1 percent  in its revenue from television to NIS 4 million.

Emil Salman
Emil Salman