Survival shows are everywhere, but why? And what can be done to make them better? In a new interview, two K-Pop experts weighed in and explained all.
Even if your love of K-Pop doesn’t extend to K-Drama, there’s one type of Korean television program you’ve probably seen at least one of: the survival show, which pits contestants against each other to win a chance at debuting. Some of the most popular and well-known survival shows in recent years include Mnet‘s Produce (which spawned groups like IZ*ONE and Wanna One), Mnet’s I-LAND (which created ENHYPEN), and JTBC2‘s YG Treasure Box (which formed TREASURE).
Even before K-Pop became a worldwide phenomenon, the survival show concept was going strong. Many of today’s stars got their start on audition programs like Superstar K (which ran from 2009 to 2016) and K-Pop Star (which began in 2011 and ended in 2017).
This year alone, Mnet’s Kingdom—a survival show for established boy groups—is gracing screens, and SBS’s Loud (a survival show to create boy groups for JYP Entertainment and P NATION) is due to follow this June. Plus, Mnet has Produce spin-off Girls Planet 999 in the works for 2021 too. But just what makes these shows so popular and prevalent? K-Pop experts answered that question in a new interview with The Korea Times.
“Viewers today seem to have grown addicted to these survival shows,” says Seo Jeong Min Gap, a Korean pop music critic. In fact, Seo believes the addiction has even surpassed interest in music shows—a staple in the K-Pop industry. According to Seo, music programs that don’t pit contestants against each other are seen as “boring.”
When watching survival shows, viewers get taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotion and excitement. Since contestants compete on performance talents alone, many viewers see survival shows as a more impartial alternative to companies selecting trainees to debut in secrete.
Of course, television broadcasters love survival shows just as much, which is why there are so many of these programs airing every year. For one, survival shows are easy for production teams to make. A simple call for auditions brings everyone to them, saving time and money on casting and scheduling.
On top of that, with impressive viewership figures, survival shows can draw in high-ticket advertisements that bring huge financial benefits to networks. Those monetary gains keep rolling in even after the shows have stopped airing, too. Music critic Han Dong Yoon explained that songs featured on survival shows—such as “VVS” from Show Me the Money 9—can top the charts for months and bring in YouTube viewers on top of that. “All these factors can allow the broadcasters to make consistent profits,” says Han.
As such, K-Pop experts say that survival shows will continue rising in number for a while to come. They’re even spreading across the world, with SM Entertainment and CJ ENM due to begin producing survival shows in the United States and Latin America respectively. “Given that foreign members can help a K-pop group build a stronger global fan base,” explained Han, “More programs for non-Korean singer hopefuls are likely to be created in the future.”
That said, not everyone is a fan of survival shows. In fact, since Mnet’s Produce series was exposed to widescale vote manipulation—providing the impartiality viewers love isn’t always real—survival shows have taken a hit in public opinion.
Many viewers also find the shows cliché and repetitive. Seo explained that it can be hard for broadcasts to create something fresh in this climate, but that many are trying to create unique and distinctive survival shows. TV Chosun‘s Miss Trot and Mr. Trot, for example, put an old-school twist on the survival show by showcasing trot singers rather than idols, while Kingdom and Queendom bring established groups to the forefront.
Even then, critics like Seo and Han believe care needs to be taken to eliminate the so-called dark side of survival shows. Seo says that contestants need to be treated better, for example, rather than being “exploited as a tool to boost viewership.” Han, meanwhile, says broadcasters need to stop distorting the truth of these shows through surreptitious editing just to boost ratings.