Lifestyle Television

Lifestyle television deals with ordinary people’s everyday lives. The genre includes
programs on interior design and home improvement, personal makeover, food and, more
recently, personal coaching on issues such as cleaning. The programs revolve around
everyday life and the surfaces, routines and behaviour of our private sphere, in particular
the physical organisation of the private sphere. The genre, together with reality, falls into
the factual entertainment category, and programs are most often didactical at their core
and give practical advice and inspiration on food, fashion, body, garden and house, all of
which are phenomena through which we express and develop our identities.

The table not surprisingly reveals that the three largest format exporters among
the 13 countries, i.e. UK, USA and Netherlands, all have high levels of lifestyle formats.
Nevertheless, relative to market size the Scandinavian markets together with Australia
also have a large amount of lifestyle format hours within both subgenres, whereas the
Southern European countries of France, Italy and Spain together with Poland have none
or very few lifestyle formats. Hence, if the extent of lifestyle formats is anything to judge
by, the same would most likely be the case for the overall extent of lifestyle programs,
including not only formats but also lifestyle programs produced exclusively for local
markets. That is, a high level of lifestyle formats in a country is likely to be a reflection of
an overall high level of the genre in the TV schedules of that country.
But why does lifestyle seem to be a Northern European and Anglophone phenomenon?
First of all, as Cunningham et al. (1998; also see Sinclair et al., 1996) have pointed to, the
Anglophone countries together with especially the Northern European countries, where
English is an important second language, constitute one so-called “geo-linguistic region”
out of a number of other geo-linguistic regions, within which TV content is exchanged on
a much larger scale than between geo-linguistic regions. Other examples of such regions
that share a linguistic and most often a geographic and/or cultural historical proximity
are the Arab countries, the ‘Latin’ countries (including Italy, Portugal, Spain, France and
South and Central America), or South East Asia. This means that common linguistic,
cultural and historical roots and influences somehow continue to play a role on today’s TV
screens when it comes to for example the genres viewers are exposed to. These regions
all have a centre-periphery structure; in which one or two countries are net exporters
and the remaining countries net importers. In the case of the Anglophone and Northern
European region, the net exporters or market leaders are of course the USA followed by
the UK. The most obvious consequence of this in the Northern European TV systems is
that these systems – also when it comes to the Scandinavian taste for the lifestyle genre
–have historically found much of their televisual inspiration in especially the UK, which is
also where the contemporary lifestyle genre is thought to have originated (Brunsdon et
al., 2001).
Nevertheless, there are also other potential explanations to do with socio-cultural
movements and media systemic conditions within precisely these Northern European and
Anglophone countries. As far as socio-cultural influences are concerned, these countries
are undoubtedly among the wealthiest countries even in the wealthy Western world and
have all experienced a recent real estate boom and low unemployment rates. Most likely
the affluence and low unemployment combined with a real estate ‘gold rush’ have created
an unprecedented interest in areas pertaining to lifestyle including home improvement
and renovation, personal makeover, food, interior design, gardening etc., which in turn
is reflected on our TV screens. In less wealthy countries, these areas may have a lower
priority for viewers and thus be of no interest to broadcasters.
Another socio-cultural explanation may very well be found in varying ‘entertaining
cultures’, which are in part influenced by climate. In the colder Northern Europe people
entertain guests in their own homes. That is, the prevailing entertaining culture is
‘indoor’, in contrast to the Southern European entertaining culture, which takes place
predominantly outside the home in bars, cafes and restaurants and, thus, could be termed
‘outdoor’.

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