Guys, this is really difficult for me to admit. But it’s time: I’m a Bravo addict. I have seen all Real Housewives franchises (and could win any Housewives trivia contest), had real opinions on the casts of Vanderpump Rules, believe Below Deck is the most underrated reality show on TV, and fangirled chefs who have competed on Top Chef. I’ve even met the King of Bravo himself, Andy Cohen.
Whatever your opinion of their programming, Bravo proves to be a great case study in how TV networks need to shift their approach to fan engagement in this new digital world. What has Bravo done so well?
Content is King
Important to any digital strategy is having a clearly defined target audience and content that the audience will find compelling. Without a doubt, Bravo knows its core audience and knows what programming they will enjoy next. They target women ages 25-54 with a higher-than-average disposable income and perform also very well with the LGBT community. Bravo is the master at creating spin-offs that are extremely successful. The Real Housewives franchise began in 2006 as a documentary series about women in Orange County living in a gated community. It has grown to 9 series in the US and several others internationally. In addition, some of the specific Housewives now have new spin-off shows that have also proven to be successful, such as Vanderpump Rules and Don’t Be Tardy. It’s a similar story for other popular series like Top Chef and Millionaire Listing.
Outlet for Direct Interaction
The not-so-secret sauce of Bravo is that they enable direct interaction between the Bravolebrities and their fans. Five nights a week, Andy Cohen hosts a late-night show called Watch What Happens Live. This show has expanded from just having Bravo TV stars as guests to having mainstream celebrities as well, including Jennifer Lawrence and Oprah. In fact, WWHL has become a key part of any press tour when celebrities release a new book, are promoting a new movie or show or release a new album. Fans are able to tweet in their questions and Andy even takes a few live calls every half hour. Further, fans are encouraged to participate in polls through text.
Another way fans interact with Bravo content is through social media, in particular Twitter. All of the Bravolebrities have an account and regularly interact with fans and one another. For many of these shows, social media behavior becomes fuel for existing fights, so fans can see in real time the drama that is going down. In fact, tweets and Instagram posts are often used as “evidence” during the infamous reunion shows. Bravo also uses the social comments to create special “social versions” of episodes during which social posts from fans reacting to the scenes are overlaid on the episode footage. Fans often tweet or post on Facebook in hopes of getting recognized on TV.
Exclusive Online Content
A final way Bravo does a great job at digital engagement is through their website. Fans can go on the site to view blog posts from the show stars with reactions to the previous episode, personal pictures of the stars, and the latest news on the shows even when they are not currently airing. Bravo also hosts exclusive video on the website, including extended clips and sneak peaks of future episodes. The best example of this is Last-Chance Kitchen for Top Chef, a competition within the competition. In this web series, recently voted-off contestants have the opportunity to fight back onto the show through cook-offs with the previous episode’s winner. These episodes can only be viewed online – but the final winner is revealed on one of the final episodes aired on TV. More recently, Bravo has launched a cooking series online called Going Off the Menu. Once again, this digital series is exclusively offered digitally.
Over the last several years, we’ve seen many networks try to emulate Bravo’s model for fan interaction – but none have been able to offer their full model. The newer late-night TV hosts do a good job of curating viewer social content; however, the shows are not live so fans do not get the same direct access to their favorite celebrities. AMC does a great job with the Talking Dead, a live show after the airing of Walking Dead, but it’s very niche and does not discuss other AMC episodes.
Although the Real Housewives‘ ratings have waned over the last few years, I don’t think that Bravo is going away anytime soon. The network has built too strong of an avid fan base and has proven to be innovative in their approach. Housewives may come and go, but Andy Cohen is here to stay.
But with that said….
What do you think? Are there any networks that you think are doing a particularly good job at interacting with their fans?