Alaskan Bush People
Has the State of Alaska become Discovery Channel’s second home? The ad-supported cable network -- long headquartered inside the Washington, D.C. (495) Beltway – must have hundreds of employees filming away in our 49th State. By my count, more than half a dozen reality shows take place in Alaska, including this week’s blog on “Alaskan Bush People,” which is tentatively scheduled to open a new season by the end of this year.
There are at least two back-stories to “Alaskan Bush People,” which follows the nine family members of the Brown clan trying to make their way as best they can out in the Alaskan bush with (very) limited resources. The first deals with the Brown clan patriarch, Billy Bryan Brown, who experienced a life-changing tragic event while still a young teenage boy. According to the March 3rd, 1969 edition of the Odessa American, a small plane crash claimed the lives of Billy Brown’s mother, father and older sister. The family tragedy left Billy Brown orphaned, and his subsequent peregrinations -- as he tried to find the meaning of life -- are recounted in his autobiography, “One Wave at a Time.” He ultimately ended up (with his wife, Ami) “going native” in the State of Alaska.
The second back-story goes to the very heart of “Reality TV” which has become a staple of cable television. There are roughly three levels of reality TV we’ve covered in this space: “Very Real”; “Kinda Real”; and “Really?” Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” certainly falls within the first category -- real life crabbers venturing forth in a fishing boat and hauling in gruesome-looking crustaceans in freezing, gale-force winds. History’s “Mountain Men” falls under the second category -- a series of hard-bark trappers and big game hunters who don’t actually have to make a living off the land. And then there’s “Alaskan Bush People,” which shot itself in the foot when several Brown members were found guilty of lying on an application to receive the State’s Annual Permanent Fund Dividend, which is given to year-round Alaskan citizens. Unfortunately, the Browns didn’t live in Alaska year-round for a few years, which doesn’t exactly bolster the show’s “authenticity.”
(See for example: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alaskadispatchcom/alaskan-bush-people-indic_b_6041252.html)
Which doesn’t mean the Brown clan hasn’t faced real dangers and deprivations living off the grid. But their legal problems lead to the inevitable question: which grid? Then, again, this is a form of reality TV that requires a willing suspension of disbelief, and based on the Live and DVR ratings for “Alaskan Bush People” there’s a lot of us out there in TV-land quite willing:
Content, Content, Content
Although ratings for the show are still quite respectable, it should be noted that “Alaskan Bush People” has experienced rating and share erosion over the past several seasons. Whether or not the decline is attributable to the Browns’ legal entanglements (which call into question the very premise of the show) is difficult to say. Conceivably, the negative publicity may have heightened awareness of the show, thus attracting new viewers. What we can say for certain: the show has morphed into various related titles (such as ”Off the Grid”, “Back to the Bush” and “Best of the Bush.”) Net/net – “Alaskan Bush People” in all its incarnations has generated a tremendous amount of content in a relatively short period of time. All in all, something like 150+ episodes in little more than two years. Perhaps, then, the show is experiencing viewer fatigue to some degree.
Small, Rural Market Appeal
Given the rural Alaskan outdoor setting for “Alaskan Bush People”, we had a hunch that the show might attract a strong concentration of rural homes. In order to find out, we utilized comScore market level viewing data for the first 5 episodes of Season Five. We first ranked the entire DMA list (210 markets) from the largest market (New York / 7.37 Million HHs), to the smallest (Glendive, Montana / 4,230 HHs.) We then divided the markets into 5 equal groups (or quintiles) of 42 markets each, and calculated the average household universe estimate and average household rating for each quintile.
As can be seen in the chart below, the largest market group (i.e., Quintile 1) has an average universe of ~1.70 Million HHs per market, which generated – on average -- a household rating of 1.13. The smallest market group (i.e., Quintile 5) has an average universe of only ~63,000 HHs per market. But these small markets – many of which are quite rural -- generated an average 1.98 HH rating – 75% higher than the largest markets:
Local Cable TV Advertising Demand
Discovery Channel doesn’t stick to a regular seasonal pattern when it comes to scheduling “Alaskan Bush People”, which makes it difficult to compare changes in advertising demand from one season to the next. We therefore compared the past two seasons (Four & Five) versus the prior two seasons (Two & Three.) In all, 190 clients across 52 markets (~70% of Viamedia’s national footprint) ordered 1,900 30-second spots. That comes to an average of 10 spots per client. And when we confine our analysis to only those 37 Viamedia markets that exhibited advertising in “Alaskan Bush People” over the past two comparative periods, we find a 17% growth in total ad investments driven by the growth in the number of 30-second commercial units: (Source: B.I.G.SM database -- Copyright © 2016 by Viamedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved)
Every outdoors reality series we’ve reviewed in this space captures above average levels of Automotive advertising, and “Alaskan Bush People” is no exception. Indeed, Automotive’s 61% category share – which is almost twice the level we normally see company-wide – is even high by reality series’ standards:
A Very Compelling Tale
“Alaskan Bush People” has weathered quite a few storms – some of them natural, and others man-made, such as the court convictions that stem from playing a little too fast and loose with the truth about Alaskan citizenship. And, yet, this show continues to attract millions of fans for a pretty simple reason: This is a story about family; about a young man who overcame personal tragedy and learned to love the outdoors, living off the land; and about that same young man who became the Patriarch of a large family that he’s entirely devoted to. It makes for a very compelling tale.