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Why You Should Watch More Reality TV (for Work)

Jana Aplin
March 4, 2020

Have you ever wondered why people watch reality TV? What’s so enticing about watching a famous celebrity try to live a normal life behind a pair of aviators? Why are we so captivated to follow a bachelorette as she dates a dozen different guys? How come we are glued to the television when a house is transformed from dilapidated to magazine-worthy? And why do we watch a chef attempt to incorporate a strange secret ingredient into an everyday recipe? 

Though many are reluctant to admit it, we all watch at least one guilty pleasure reality TV show. I actually watch two: House Hunters International and Dude You’re Screwed. There’s nothing shameful about it. In fact, watching a reality television show is one of the best things you can do to improve your content development. 

The Curiosity Gap

According to podcaster Andrew Davis, the curiosity gap is a marketing method that relies on innate curiosity to attract and retain your audience. It falls right between what the audience already knows and what they don’t yet know. By emphasizing that gap, you lure the audience in long enough to stick around for your pitch. 

News channels have been doing this for ages. Right before a commercial, the host will say something like, “Stay tuned because after the commercial we’re going to explain how the Coronavirus is related to your Amazon Prime deliveries.” 

That’s not an actual quote, nor is it factual. But if you’re aware of the recent contagious disease or frequently order items from Amazon, I just hooked you with the curiosity gap.

But news isn’t the only industry applying this tactic. Reality TV does, too—and I’d venture to say they do an even better job at it. Consider these common tropes:

  • Will the Bachelorette give her final rose to the man who has it all together, or to the one who betrayed her confidence?
  • Which chef will be put on the chopping block? The one who tried to recover from a major mistake, or the chef who has consistently ranked at the bottom of the group?
  • Which run-down house has the most potential to be transformed into a Pinterest perfect home? Is it the rustic barn with an open concept design and lots of land to roam, or the traditional downtown Victorian with ample living space plus historic charm? 

The reality shows grab your attention on the edge of a cliff hanger… only to be followed by a promptly timed commercial. No one actually enjoys watching commercials, yet the viewer sticks around because their curiosity must be satiated. 

How It Works

The curiosity gap invites your audience to stick around long enough to hear your pitch; truthfully, they just want to ease the tension that’s electrified in the air. That is the exact reason why this is a must-use technique for every content creator. Here’s how it works.

1.  Present the case. Every reality TV show sets the stage right away. Introduce the major characters, setting, and relevant details.

2.  Develop the tension. Every good story includes conflict, and your content is no different. Tell your audience the questions they are already thinking, the ever-present problems that are unsolved in their life, and the barriers that are a mile high with no end in sight.

3. Mind the curiosity gap. Strategically linger, pause, and delay. You may not always have the option to cue a commercial break, but you can be sure to sit in the tension, hold the pressure, and bank on the uncertainty. Earn their attention, then reignite their enthusiasm. 

4. Introduce the solution. This is the moment the audience has been waiting for. This is the moment right after the show comes back on after the commercials. Resolve the tension, answer the questions, and remove the barriers. Make your pitch.

5. Gain a loyal customer. The curiosity gap has hooked people to the nightly news and glued viewers to the new weekly episode of a reality TV show. At this point, you’ve gained a loyal customer because you identified their tensions and lingered in the uncomfortable just long enough to earn their attention before providing a solution.

Mind the (Curiosity) Gap!

When riding the Tube in London, an automated announcement is made every time the doors open: “Mind the gap.” I’m challenging you to “mind the curiosity gap” every time you watch a reality TV show. Observe when you’re on the edge of your seat. Make note about what causes you to stick around through the commercials. Glean from their stellar content techniques.

Stay curious—and next time someone says you watch too much reality TV, tell them that it’s for work.

Do you have a favorite reality show that employs the curiosity gap? Share your recommendation with us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn!

Photo by Wang John on Unsplash

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