Television Trends – Who Decides What’s Hot and What’s Not?

Trends are a funny a thing. Whether you realize it or not, they are constantly forming right in front of your eyes and what’s more, some are more easily explained than others. In terms of the fashion industry, for example, there are many well-known trendsetters who only need to be seen holding a garment of interest before every man and their dog are wearing the item in question. However, when it comes to film and in particular television, the forming of trends is much more complex, especially with the emergence of on demand streaming platforms such as Hulu and Netflix.

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TV Is Now Borrowing From The Big Screen More Than Ever

In the US, box office takings for August 2017 totaled $625m according to the BBC, which indicates a 35% decrease when compared the same month last year. Whilst much of this is down to a perceived lack of high quality content, it’s also due to the fact that television series are borrowing the best elements and themes from the cinema and then simply doing a better job of incorporating them into their own programming. Many of the most popular current themes of programming within the television industry first found success on the big screen. Take the superhero genre for example – shows such as Jessica Jones, Daredevil and The Flash have enjoyed considerable success on the small screen and yet, it’s arguable that these shows would have never come to fruition had it not been for the success of flagship franchises such as X-Men and The Avengers on the big screen. Furthermore, a recent report from USA Today estimates that around 1 in 8 Marvel TV/Netflix show watchers are new to the superhero genre. All of this serves to show that while our interest in the superhero genre was rekindled by the cinema, it has been undoubtedly further whetted by television.

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Familiarity Breeds…Enjoyment?

While there are many different names for it, the familiarity principle or mere-exposure effect within social psychology could also go some way to explain how trends in television are set. The theory has it that an individual will develop a preference for something for no other reason than the fact that they are already familiar with it, whether this be on a conscious or unconscious basis. Take for example the iconic figure of Elvis Presley, his figure at Las Vegas combined with slot games have made for one of the most popular places to gamble. All you need is the comfort that there is a big brand behind the title and you will automatically be drawn to it, says researcher Dr Mark Griffiths. Author Margrethe Bruun Vaage’s Amazon bestseller The Antihero in American Television argues that the feeling of “familiarity is pleasurable” and that “television series activate mental mechanisms similar to those activated by friendship in real life.” In other words, viewers develop a shared bond between themselves and the characters on screen and the familiarity principle allows them to maintain this sympathetic attitude once it has been initially established.

Some Themes and Genres Are Simply More Attractive Than Others

When it boils down to it, trending is simply another word for popular. In essence, the question therefore becomes, what makes one genre more popular than the other? The simple answer is that some themes and genres have more redeeming qualities than others and the current popularity of the sci-fi and fantasy genres is a perfect example of this. The continued success of shows like Doctor Who (830 episodes in total) and Supernatural (270 episodes) as well as classics such as Star Trek (741 episodes) and Lost (121 episodes), are often so far removed from reality that they represent a form of escapism for the viewer and break the mundane and repetitive cycle of nature which we are all accustomed to in one way of the other. HBO’s Game of Thrones in particular has enjoyed massive amounts of success recently, maybe not as a form of escapism but instead due to the depth of the characters and plot which can seduce and ensnare even the most fleeting mind.

Trends Are Often Unpredictable… Who Knows What’s Next For TV?

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Trends are easily identifiable after they’ve started – it’s often easy to see exactly why something is popular once it’s become so. However, it’s much harder, nye on impossible to predict what the paying public is going to be into next.

Using superheroes as an example for a moment, before the release of the first X-Men film back in the year 2000, no-one could have possibly predicted just how the genre was about to take off, especially given the dwindling sales of physical comic books.

Back in 2000, Netflix offered themselves up to Blockbuster for the meager sum of $50 million – Blockbuster declined the offer. Fast forward 17 years and Blockbuster is now a defunct company, whilst Netflix has just been market capped at $84 billion dollars, second in the media company stakes behind Disney only. If this doesn’t perfectly encapsulate the unpredictable nature of media in general then nothing does.