K7 Media

K7 Media

Nostalgia: A Lifeline for Linear?

It wasn’t so long ago that the music industry was convinced that vinyl records were dead and buried, an outdated mode of consumption made redundant by the relentless march of technology. Today, we know that such declarations were premature. Enthusiasts and collectors stuck with vinyl, keeping it alive until it became a sustainable – if niche – boutique market.

Linear broadcast television might well be in the middle of a similar journey, only instead of limited-edition double albums acting as a life preserver, it’s the familiarity of classic style light entertainment.

The successful BBC reboot of the old ITV smash hit Gladiators has perhaps signposted a pathway for broadcast TV to perform a similar resurrection. Nostalgia clearly plays a role here, as fans who loved the bombastic physical competition as kids in its original 1990s incarnation are now parents themselves. The urge to recreate those childhood memories of the whole family gathered around to watch the same thing at the same time is strong. Such impulses may have been diminished by always-available streaming, but they still linger.

We’re seeing similar effects in other countries. In Germany, the rebooted version of celebrity diving contest Turmspringen, which previously aired between 2004 and 2015, has met with similar success. Like Gladiators, it is a physical competition format that has switched broadcasters, from ProSieben to RTL, for its new iteration.

In Spain, a revived version of slapstick 90s game show Grand Prix aired last summer to brilliant figures. In Belgium, TV1 scored a ratings hit by bringing back De Droomfabriek (Tr. The Dream Factory) on Saturday nights. The heartwarming wish-granting show, which ran from 1989 to 1999, has even brought back original host Bart Peeters to tweak those fond memories even more effectively.

Gladiators, BBC1

These are all quite different shows, each one with a specific appeal to its local audience. What is resonating here, obviously, isn’t a single content or format trend, where we can point to a certain genre and say it’s on the rise. As each show has performed particularly strongly on the night of broadcast, it seems to indicate more of a broader audience appetite for the familiar – both in terms of brands but also viewing methods.

Of course, this isn’t going to magically turn around the fortunes of broadcasters and lure tens of millions of viewers back to the schedules but, anecdotally at least, there is evidence that streaming is no longer meeting all of audiences’ needs. The big appeal of streaming ten years ago was convenience – a single app which hosted hundreds of shows and movies. Today, navigating streaming is less convenient. Scrolling through rows and rows of thumbnails waiting for something to stand out can feel frustrating. Hearing about a new show then having to find out which service it’s on, and whether you’ll have access to it, is even more of a hurdle.

With the world at large in a fragile, anxiety-inducing state of turmoil it’s perhaps no surprise that a sizeable portion of viewers – certainly those of Gen X and older – are drawn to the reliably curated comfort of scheduled family viewing, especially if the shows on offer are new versions of old favourites. People want to “get back to normal”, and in some cases that normal might be thirty years ago.

Add in the bolstering effect of new hits such as The Traitors, which all but demand live viewing in order to be part of the conversation and avoid spoilers, and it seems clear that there is a way for traditional linear TV to find a comfortable niche – at least for now – while we wait to see if a vinyl-style renaissance is on the way.

Dan Whitehead

Dan Whitehead has been covering TV and video games for over fifteen years, both as an entertainment journalist and as an industry consultant.