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1.1 Background of the study
Reality-based shows are gradually taking over global television programming. People who have been following events on television for the past five years can easily agree that television programming in the twenty-first century has thus far been dominated by reality-based programmes (Nielsen Ratings, 2005). For the past several years, reality television has dominated mainstream television programming, providing relatively inexpensive entertainment (Gardyn, 2001). No doubt, reality television has become a pastime which many television stations now rely on for winning large audience and advertisement patronage from advertisers. Television shows such as the Delta State Government-sponsored Delta Talent Quest, Star Quest, Gulder’s Ultimate Search, MTN’s Project Fame, Glo’s Naija Sings, ABC’s The Bachelor, GTBank’s The Debator, NBC’s The Apprentice, Maltina’s Family Dance All, FOX’s American Idol and even cable shows like MTV’s The Real World have continued to dominate television stations’ timeslots on a regular basis. In America, FOX’s American Idol is the network’s most-watched non-sports show ever and was the most watched show overall for the entire 2004-2005 television season (Nielsen Ratings, 2005). The Big Brother Africa show aired by DSTV satellite channel is very popular among viewers in Africa.
A lot of reality programming these days are targeted at youths (large number of who are students) who often easily associate with the programmes’ characters and may take to some as role models. Many of these youths who might be university students, may not be able to distinguish between the realities in reality television and the realities in the real world. For Instance, many students in Nigerian universities flood audition venues of reality programmes, craving for the instant fame which reality television programmes will give them. Rather than see success as a process which must be prepared for, these youths simply assume success to be a product of their talents which the reality based programmes represent. They also provide the youths with the platform for showcasing and launching them into instant fame as evident in audition interviews for programmes like Glo Naija Sings and Star Quest and others.
This study, therefore, became necessary as it analysed reality programmes on television as well as assessing the perception of the youth, especially Nigerian students, regarding reality programmes on television.
Statement of the Problem
Reality programming is gradually becoming the toast of television stations and advertisers globally. The relatively cheap production costs and high audience viewing figures ensure a steady stream of new and repeated formats of reality television on television screens in different homes today. The ‘real’ drama of the programmes is highlighted by the interactive capacity of the shows, with the audience supposedly directly influencing events on the television screen. From the Big Brother Africa shows through MTN Project Fame, Maltina Family Dance All, West African Idol to the Gulder Ultimate Search, among others, audience are invited to join in and make celebrities out of unknown contestants, plucked from obscurity to enter the fabulous life of celebrity, success and fame.
A reality television programme, for instance, is a programme supposedly devoid of 'acting out' unfolding events with everything happening being “unplanned”, “real”, but documented for viewers to see on-going or live happenings with every passing moment. There are no actors, just competitors (young men and women who probably live in the same neighbourhood) doing their best to win the star prize of the reality show. The setting varies, based on the theme of the reality show. Issues, therefore, abound as some people perceive reality television programmes as ‘rewarding idleness’. Some people may also be seeing reality programmes on television as another way of exploiting the minds of the young audiences of the programmes without morally impacting on their lives. The craze for instant fame is another issue, because many youths now suddenly discover their supposedly hidden
talents which the reality television programmes provide them with a platform to stardom with little or no hard work.
The focus of this study therefore, was to analyse reality television programmes, finding out the contents of the programmes and identifying their thematic direction, as well as assessing the perception of University Students towards reality television programmes. In other words, what is the nature of reality television programmes and how do University students perceive such programmes?
1.2 Objectives of the Study
The study set out to analyse reality programmes on television and University students’ perception. The specific objectives were to:
1. determine the thematic direction of Big Brother Africa, Gulder Ultimate Search, and MTN Project Fame reality television programmes.
2. examine if the contents of Big Brother Africa, Gulder Ultimate Search, and
MTN Project Fame reality television programmes reflect gender stereotypes.
3. find out if there are educational/cultural/traditional values in the contents projected in the reality television programmes such as Gulder Ultimate Search, Big Brother Africa and MTN Project Fame in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
4. find out the perception of University students of reality television programmes.
5. determine the effects reality television programmes have on University Students and the society.
6. ascertain if the gender of University students affects their perception of reality programmes on television.
7. find out how reality television stars influence University Students.
1.3 Research Questions
The following questions were raised in the study:
1. What educational contents are projected by Big Brother Africa, Gulder Ultimate Search, and MTN Project Fame reality television programmes?
2. Do the contents of Big Brother Africa, Gulder Ultimate Search, and MTN Project Fame reality television programmes reflect gender stereotypes?
3. Are there educational/cultural/traditional values in the contents of reality television programmes such as Gulder Ultimate Search, Big Brother Africa and MTN Project Fame in the 2011 and 2012 seasons?
4. What is the perception of University students towards reality television programmes?
5. What effects do reality television programmes have on University Students and the society?
6. How does the gender of University students affect their perception of reality programmes on television?
7. How do reality television stars influence University Students?
1.4 Research Hypotheses
Two alternative hypotheses were formulated for this study.
H1:Reality television programmes project more educational contents than cultural/traditional values.
H2:Male students are likely to perceive reality television programmes differently from their female counterparts.
1.5 Significance of the Study
This study is important because of the proliferation of reality programmes in Nigeria today which have raised arguments about their messages, perception, etc. This study provides valuable contributions to theory, practice and research. Theoretically, the findings are expected to support previous theories and premises in the area of television influence/effect, perception as well as reality television studies. The study, no doubt, will contribute to extant literature on reality television, televisual effects, particularly in the area of perception and television influence. Thus, the way University students perceive reality television programmes has been empirically established. Scholars now have empirical evidence they can cite, critique or seek to replicate in their study. It is therefore, expected that television producers, especially reality television producers, will see this study as an exposé of how they are affecting people with their programming.
Audience members, who are at the receiving end of television contents will, through this study, understand better their position in the television production chain as this study provides them information on how reality television programmes affect their lives from the opinions gathered from the result from this study.
With the achievement of the study’s objectives, parents should also be interested in the findings of this study as it reveals how television and reality television affect the lives of their children and wards.
1.6 Delimitations of the Study
This study concentrated on six Nigerian Universities in the South-South Geo- political zone, namely: Edo, Delta Bayelsa, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River and Rivers States. This was made up of two state-owned and four federal universities with one each from the six states that make up the geo-political zone.
Since it would be difficult to content-analyse all reality television programmes on television in Nigeria, four reality television programmes were purposely selected based on the following criteria: national spread; consistency in terms of being produced every season; and popularity among the respondents. They are Big Brother Africa, Gulder Ultimate Search and MTN Project Fame.
1.7 Limitations of the Study
The researcher faced challenges in accessing the episodes of the reality television programmes analysed in the study due to the fact that the television stations that aired them refused to give them out for analysis. Even the producers of the reality television programmes were initially reluctant until they agreed to release only the chosen episodes for analysis.
Also, the reaction of the respondents to the researcher in the process of the administering of the data gathering instrument (questionnaire) posed another major challenge. The researcher had to beg and convince many of the respondents with the assurance that their responses were going to be treated as anonymous.
1.8 Definition of Terms
Reality TV/Reality Television: - A programme type on television, sometimes produced in seasons, with talents who are not necessarily actors competing for a prize. It is also a programme type that presents real people in real situations for the purpose of entertainment.
Reality Programming: - This is the practice of organizing reality television programmes on a daily, weekly or season-long schedule by television and cable network stations.
Programme Schedule: - this is the daily listing of television or broadcast programmes organized into time belts for placement on air for the targeted audience.
Gratification: - the feeling of satisfaction or joy which a viewer gets from watching reality television programmes.
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