Similarization of Variety Programs: Mixed Blessing
The recent trend in the variety programs of South Korea show similar formats that they can be categorized into only three keywords; observation, eating and ‘traveling. Through the Culture Column, The Sogang Herald will analyze the format of major variety programs and cover the structure of analogous programs.
How Can Viewers Define ‘Similarization’ of Variety Programs?
If a certain variety program meets the needs of viewers through certain elements, that makes the program receive positive response from viewers. With the success of one program, other broadcasting stations are highly likely to come up with a plan for running a similar style program. When this phenomenon is repeated, the prevailing format forms a flow within the variety program market. In other words, when the viewers’ desires, that they want to get satisfaction through programs, and producers’ motives and intentions are found to be uniform and reflect phases of the times, similar formats of programs can be planned and aired.
As a result, recent variety programs in Korea have standardized formats. There were expectations that the success of cable channels such as tvN and JTBC would lead to the diversification of variety programs’ formats. However, diversity has not promoted significantly as the traditional channels including KBS, MBC and SBS took formats of cable programs into consideration. The launch of cable channels was aimed at enhancing program quality through competition in the broadcasting market, overcoming the media dominance concentrated on the three existing traditional channels. Critics, however, point out that the competition for ratings among channels has only resulted in the mass production of similar programs that help broadcasting companies' commercial successes rather than inducing diversity within variety programs. In particular, there has been criticism that the programs are self-replicating because they share same materials and concepts and only change the cast members .
How Does the Similarities in Formats Appear?
The similarization phenomenon of the variety programs is not just nowadays’ distinctive feature. Here are some examples of analogous program formats which have set the trends in past few years. Maybe you can find some of your favorite programs among them!
Recent variety shows can also be sorted out in several keywords. Moreover, the formats of popular programs are getting more similar with each other compared to the past.
The hottest trend of variety programs now are observation programs. After the success of Single Life (2013), the format that records program in the studio while celebrities watch videos of their own daily lives gained popularity. Additionally, not only celebrities but also their families and neighbors are appearing in panels of recent variety shows.
What Are the Stances Toward Similarization?
Toward this phenomenon, there are both positive and negative views. The positive opinion mainly suggests that continuation of producing similar formats means there is corresponsive demand. That is, the rise of such analogous broadcasts are inevitable since viewers can get easily satisfied with the content on particular format that reflects culture of certain time; the present. The broadcasting industry is not the only place where content becomes a trend. Viewers should not regard it as an abnormal phenomenon, but as a universal cultural phenomenon. Typically, observational programs and healing programs are repeatedly produced, and their ratings are consistently high. It indicates that these formats give people enough pleasure and win viewers’ sympathy. According to a survey from several producers, sympathy is one of the most important factors that broadcast producers consider when planning programs. According to the Theory of Uses and Theory of Gratification by Blumler and Katz, viewers watch a program for satisfying their needs. Katz emphasizes the active use of media among viewers. Viewers now voluntarily select and enjoy the variety programs and not passively. In these circumstances, producers create programs that viewers want to see because they have to make profit with their broadcasting. Viewers expect laughter and sympathy from variety programs. It is rather natural for producers of these programs who are in a fierce competition for ratings, to produce programs that follow the latest trend leading format viewers want. Toward this stance, some media experts argue that similarization of variety programs is not a phenomenon that can only be blamed on producers or writers. Their opinion is that the public, who enjoy watching trendy programs but criticize similarity uniformity, are also responsible for the similarization.
On the other side, people argue that some viewers may get bored with continually recycled formats and end up turning to other media losing interest in TV programs. The typical example is here. In the spring of 2016, three programs for music contests of the traditional channels were aired at the same period, which were organized in prime time. Each of the program had a differentiated concept, which drew public assessment that they were competitive enough. However, as their casting composition became similar with each other, the two programs among them ended with the criticism over "rotation of same singers" and "singer overkill."
In the past, there were just one or two overlapping programs for each particular subject. However, nowadays, more than five similar programs are derived from one identical theme. Of course, viewers do not unreasonably criticize broadcasting producers who try to keep up with the trend. Nevertheless, if similarization become widespread to the point where the viewers feel a sense of dejavu, it will eventually diminish the viewers’ enjoyment. There is another assertion that similarization can be seen not only in theme and format of programs, but also in visible elements including camera structure and editing style.
The Prospect of Similarization Phenomenon
Korean variety TV programs are not just one mere genre now. Instead, they create cultural flow by being sensitive to the public’s preference. .For instance, the latest programs are loved by the people for its amusement and emotion based on reality, not empty reactions that are perished from viewers instantly.
The producers can estimate the viewers’ reaction through the ratings of their programs. Although ratings can be an indicator of a program’s success, high ratings do not always guarantee whether a program has good quality or not. However, TV programs are also one kind of commercial product in the market. Therefore, they are inevitably influenced by the responses of viewers, the consumers of a broadcasting market. Only when the public watches the show, does the broadcasting has value and meaning of existence. Variety programs, in particular, have underlying attributes that they should actively attract viewers to increase ratings or advertisement sales. This essentially entices producers to make variety programs in viewers’ preferred format or material. For this point, paradoxically, planning and producing similarized programs can be an efficient way to meet the needs of viewers. As a part of TV programs consumers, The Sogang Herald hope that the feedback between the broadcasting stations and viewers will allow the improvement on variety shows’ quality and the pleasure they deliver to viewers.
By Jung Hye-joo (Culture Reporter)
Kim, Young Do, A Study on the similarization of Korean TV Programs along with the increase in number of channels-focusing on the formats and materials of TV entertainment programs, Dongguk University Institute of Social Sciences, 2018, pp. 7-30
 나 혼자 산다
 Seo, Ji Yoon, A study on focalization of observation entertainment program, Ewha Womans University Graduate School, 2018.
 Kim, Young Do, A Study on the similarization of Korean TV Programs along with the increase in number of channels-focusing on the formats and materials of TV entertainment programs, Dongguk University Institute of Social Sciences, 2018, pp. 74-75
 Kim, Young Do, A Study on the similarization of Korean TV Programs along with the increase in number of channels-focusing on the formats and materials of TV entertainment programs, Dongguk University Institute of Social Sciences, 2018, p. 82