Do you want to start a reality show from scratch? If YES, here is a complete guide to starting a reality show business with NO money and no experience. In the past few decades, reality shows were thought to be just a trend in the entertainment and TV industry. But the advent of technology and our way of life as humans have changed that idea, because reality shows are now the current staple on television; they have become the standard and everyone is jumping on board to get their concept televised to ready viewers.

Indeed starting this business may not be easy, but it is not out of reach of anyone who wants to stage one. It all boils down to developing your concept, going through the production process, and then airing your show. The keyword here is uniqueness. If you are looking to start a reality show, then you have to read on to understand the various points and stages you need to get accustomed to.

It is very important to note that TV programs are for the most part unique stories, stunts, or social experiments reflecting our world. Now, with the Internet connecting producers to the rest of the world, Reality Television has become the most viable genre for new writers, creators and everyday people with great ideas to break into the Industry.

We believe that producers in this look for interesting subjects, people, professions, and original formats to purchase and produce as new shows. You have got to read on to get more comprehensive information on how to start a reality show effectively.

19 Steps to Starting a Reality Show Business

1. Understand the Industry

First and foremost, reality shows or reality television is a genre of television programming that documents supposedly unscripted real-life situations, and often features an otherwise unknown cast of individuals who are typically not professional actors. Have it in mind that this show differs from documentary television in that the focus tends to be on drama, personal conflict, and entertainment rather than educating viewers.

Note that in this business, the genre has various standard tropes, including “confessionals” (also called talking heads or interview segments) used by cast members to express their thoughts, which often doubles as the shows’ narration. In a competition-based reality show, there are other common elements which may include one participant being eliminated per episode, a panel of judges, and the concept of “immunity from elimination.”

According to facts and history, the 1991 Dutch series Nummer 28, indeed was the first show to bring together strangers and record their interactions. With time and rapid attention, it then boomed into a phenomenon in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the global success of the series Survivor, Idols, and Big Brother.

We believe that then all these shows and a number of others (usually also competition-based) became global franchises, hitting out local versions in dozens of countries. In this current age, reality shows as a whole have become a fixture of television programming. Just in the united states, a lot of channels have retooled themselves to focus on reality programs, most famously MTV which began in 1981 as a music video pioneer, before switching to a nearly all-reality format in the early 2000s.

A lot of experts have argued about what to call a reality show and the necessary incentives to ground it. Documentaries, television news, sports television, talk shows, and traditional game shows are not classified as reality shows, although they are made up of elements of the genre, such as unscripted situations and sometimes unknown participants.

While other genres that predate the reality show boom have sometimes been retroactively grouped into reality TV, including hidden camera shows such as Candid Camera (1948), talent-search shows such as The Original Amateur Hour (1948), documentary series about ordinary people such as the Up Series (1964), high-concept game shows such as The Dating Game (1965), home improvement shows such as This Old House (1979), and court shows featuring real-life cases such as The People’s Court in 1981.

The reality show industry has faced significant criticism since its rise in popularity. A lot of the criticisms centred on the use of the word “reality”, as such shows attempt to present themselves as a straightforward recounting of events that have occurred.

A lot of industry critics have argued that reality television shows do not accurately reflect reality, in ways both implicit (participants being placed in artificial situations), and deceptive or even fraudulent, such as misleading editing, participants being coached in what to say or how to behave, storylines generated ahead of time, and scenes being staged or re-staged for the cameras.

We also noted that other criticisms of reality television shows include that they are made to humiliate or exploit participants (particularly on competition shows); that they make stars out of either untalented people unworthy of fame, infamous personalities, or both; and that they kick start vulgarity, materialism and deception.

2. Conduct Market Research and Feasibility Studies

  • Demographics and Psychographics

It is very important to state that this business is not just about the segment of the population you plan to target but the focus and agenda of your reality show. When planning this business, you need to research this industry critically. Note that your first step towards starting a successful reality show is to brainstorm for ideas for your show and picking the best. You need to decide what your series will be all about.

Indeed it may be similar to other formats, but you must have elements and methods that are clearly original so that the content created is something unique and exciting to watch. We have noted that a lot of producers do create original concepts with their development team, but most often than not, producers scout aggressively for new concepts and reality show ideas from writers and concept creators. This is the reason why you don’t need to be afraid to work on several show concepts at once. Things to think about when choosing your show focus may include;

  • First think of what makes your idea unique
  • Decide on what will get your audience excited
  • Know which sub-genre of reality programming your show idea falls into
  • Would it be a competition and elimination series, or a relationship series, or a lifestyle series, or something else?
  • What do you want to achieve with the show?
  • For how long will the show run?

3. Decide Which Niche to Concentrate On

When planning to start a reality show, we believe that you already have chosen the sub-genre you wish to pitch. But first you are going to propose either a formatted concept, or a documentary style concept. Have it in mind that a format has a specific structure that takes place in each episode and provokes dramatic or compelling competition, typically resulting in one person winning. “Survivor”, “Top Chef”, “Wipe Out”, and “The Bachelor” are all competition formats, each with a different structure and premise.

We believe that one is about survival, another is about cooking, another is about stunts, and the other is about romance and relationships. “Survivor” pitched all contestants against each other, with one person voted off each week by the group as a whole. While “The Bachelor” has contestants competing for a relationship with one or more voted off each week by the star of the show.

All these things and many more are what draw viewers close to a show. You need to choose what will attract people and make them stay. Niches to choose from may include;

  • Documentary style
  • Soap opera style
  • Subcultures
  • Professional activities
  • Structured reality
  • Special living environment
  • Court shows
  • Investments
  • Outdoor survival
  • Self-improvement and makeover
  • Renovation
  • Social experiment
  • Hidden cameras
  • Supernatural and paranormal
  • Reality competition and game shows
  • Dating based competition
  • Immunity
  • Sports
The Level of Competition in the Industry

The level of competition in this industry cannot be overemphasised. Just in the year 2010, The Tester became the first reality television show aired over a video game console. But two years later – 2012, a lot of the long-running reality television show franchises in the United States such as American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor, had begun to see declining ratings.

But we believe that reality television as a whole remained durable in the U.S., with hundreds of shows across many channels. While researching this industry for the sake of this article, we discovered that in 2012, the New York Magazine’s Vulture blog published a humorous Venn diagram buttressing popular themes across American reality shows then running, including shows set in the U.S. states of Alaska, Louisiana and Texas, shows about cakes, weddings and pawnbrokers, and shows, usually competition-based, whose title includes the word “Wars”.

Also we were able to note that The Voice, a singing competition franchise created by John de Mol that started in 2010, is the newest highly successful reality television franchise, with almost 50 international adaptations even in Africa.

Also Duck Dynasty, a hunting-themed reality series featuring the Robertson family that founded Duck Commander in 2013 became the most popular reality series in U.S. cable television history. Reports have it that its fourth-season premiere was viewed by nearly 12 million people in the United States, most of which work in rural markets. Then in the year 2014, the entertainment weekly and Variety again noted stagnation in reality television programs’ ratings in the U.S., which they attributed to “The diminishing returns of cable TV’s sea of reality sameness”.

They even went further to explain that a number of networks that featured reality programming, including Bravo and E!, were launching their first scripted shows, and others, including AMC, were abandoning plans to launch further reality programs; though they clarified that the genre as a whole “isn’t going anywhere”. All these may seem as a playground to you, but do not be deceived as new reality shows are kicking up every day around the globe.

4. Know Your Major Competitors in the Industry

Just like other businesses that have gone ahead of others and are thriving well, the reality show business isn’t an exception. There are shows that have surpassed challenges and have become a household name.

Here is a list;

  • Keeping Up With the Kardashians
  • The Apprentice
  • Up series
  • An American Family
  • The Family
  • Sightings
  • The Real World
  • Sylvania Waters
  • The Living Soap
  • Road Rules
  • Airport
  • Airline
  • Bug Juice
  • True Life
  • Gachinko!
  • The Band-Josie 7
  • Making the Band
  • Project Greenlight
  • Scariest Places On Earth
  • U8TV: The Lofters
  • Making the Band 2
  • The Salon
  • Sorority Life
  • American Chopper
  • Fraternity Life
  • Jamie’s Kitchen
  • The Restaurant
  • Starting Over
  • American Casino
  • American Hot Rod
  • Amish in the City
  • Bands Reunited
  • The Casino
  • College Hill
  • Dog Whisperer
  • Family Plots
Economic Analysis

Let us start by stating that the Voice and ABC’s Dancing with the Stars both drew over 11 million viewers on the first night of the new season, far more than most of the heavily hyped, scripted newcomers bowing this week. Cable networks, meanwhile, remain far more reliant on reality than scripted fare, hosting literally hundreds of series that fill thousands of hours of airtime. But look a little deeper and there are signs of trouble.

The television last great reality hit, A&E’s Duck Dynasty, premiered more than three years ago. A slew of recent big bets to shake up the genre — such as Fox’s Utopia, CBS’s The Briefcase, and ABC’s The Quest — went nowhere. We believe that with networks increasingly taking a long-tail approach to their business, prioritizing scripted series that have a (profitable) digital afterlife on streaming services, reality shows are taking a great hit.

Experts believe that even though modern reality TV is barely a teenager, and far younger than programming staples such as comedy and drama, the sheer tonnage of unscripted content produced in the past decade and half has left the people who make it — and, arguably, those who watch it — struggling to recapture the excitement of a once-vibrant genre.

The industry seems to be running out of ideas, and if you have plans to take over the industry with something unique, the best time is now.

5. Decide Whether to Buy a Franchise or Start from Scratch

In case you don’t know, franchises are a booming business; which is why they are attractive to entrepreneurs who want to operate a storefront without investing too much in the traditional costs of starting a business. We believe that these traditional costs may include research, development and advertising, just to name a few.

But even with saving on traditional costs, buying into reality show franchise is still a big investment and far better than starting from the scratch due to brand awareness and cooperate identity. But before investing in a franchise of your own, carefully consider the pros and cons of franchise ownership.

  • Proven model

One of the biggest draws to opening a franchise is that you already know you will be working with a proven business plan. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Standard operating procedures

With an established business plan also comes procedures that have fared well at other locations. Additionally, employee training systems are typically already in place.

  • Assistance is part of the package

By participating in a franchise, you can share the challenges with others and get assistance on everything from real estate and operations to sales and marketing.

  • Be part of a brand

Many franchises are easily identifiable to consumers. So, while you will still need to partake in some advertising to let consumers know about your new location, chances are that consumers already know you by name. That is an enormous benefit that start-ups don’t have.

  • Price breaks

By its very nature, a single franchise location is part of a larger organization. As such, inventory costs can be lower due to bulk buying power.

6. Know the Possible Threats and Challenges You Will Face

Indeed pitching a tent in the reality show industry is notoriously difficult, but the advent of cheap technology and internet distribution has made it easier than ever to get views. Almost anyone can get noticed, but it takes a lot of commitment and hard work. Possible challenges you will face when starting your own reality show business may include;

  • Coming up with a compelling niche
  • Choosing the genre and format of your show
  • Developing your characters
  • Writing up a treatment for your show
  • Building some content around your ideas
  • Understand basic screenwriting formatting, conventions and the need for a good plot
  • Getting the show on air
  • Finance

7. Choose the Most Suitable Legal Entity (LLC, C Corp, S Corp)

We all know that LLCs are one of the most popular legal entities because they are relatively easy to set up and can offer favourable tax advantages. First and foremost, Setting up an LLC gives a business owner limited liability in protecting his or her personal assets.

This simply means should anything go wrong with the business and should a legal issue arise, your personal assets will be protected; as long as you haven’t made any personal guarantees to the business. You can select whether you want to set up your LLC as a sole proprietor or as a partnership with more than one member.

Also, one of the most important features of an LLC is that income is not taxed at the corporate level, but rather it is passed directly to the individual members who own a percentage stake in the company. (The form used to send individual members’ their profit and loss allocation percentages is the K1 form.) This tax feature can be favourable because it avoids double taxation (corporate and personal income tax) and can keep more profits in the company for further growth.

Have it in mind that an LLC needs to have at least a standard operating agreement, which lays out the rules for how the managing member will conduct the affairs of the business. A lot of business attorneys have experience in drafting operating agreements, which dictate terms such as allocation of profit and loss, and stipulate the duties and limitation of liability of members and managers.

Note that the operating agreement is also an important document because most financial institutions will require a copy when you open a business bank account, and certainly if you take on outside investors. Some operating agreements are very simple for companies that have few members. Other agreements can be quite exhaustive depending on the terms of the deal and the nature of the investors.

8. Choose a Catchy Business Name

If you are looking to adopt a name for your reality show, it becomes really needful that you go for the very best. Here is some inspiration;

  • Frey Theatre
  • Badby boys
  • Vision Vault
  • Distress Village
  • Life Vigour
  • Giggles
  • Family time

9. Discuss with an Agent to Know the Best Insurance Policies for You

Just like we must have noted, the reality show business is the fastest growing genre of television production. This category of television production has vastly expanded to encompass many types of programming including game shows, variety shows, webisodes, mobisodes, documentary-style filming to series and pilots. Also with the rapid growth of “reality programming”, it is crucial to have a broker who understands the process and risks related to reality filming.

No production can ever come from movie and television studios without an insurance policy. It is for this reason that when filming regular television shows, an all-risk TV show insurance policy would suffice. But filming episodes of a reality TV show does invite much more risk than the shows that are shot in the studio.

There was a lot of doubt if the reality TV genre would last. The math is simple: a broken limb or a bruised ego could result in claims that would hurt the profits of insurance providers, which could result in insurers shying away from reality TV show insurance altogether. But in all, you need to consult a broker well experienced in this field to help you out.

10. Protect your Intellectual Property With Trademark, Copyrights, Patents

Indeed while the rights in a book or piece of music can be easily identified and protected, a reality show format is less tangible. Most features of the shows include universal appeal, manipulated emotions, big prizes, intensity, slick presentation, and the “attainability” of winning.

We believe that legal protection lies not in one simple piece of legislation but in a range of intellectual property rights. If a format is taken up by an overseas TV network without permission, it may be difficult for the company that developed the original show to achieve redress though the courts.

Reality show theme tunes, jingles, scripts and storyboards may be protected by copyright, while catchphrases and slogans may be protected by trademark registration or by an action for passing off. Most experts will argue that there is copyright in the questions used in a game show, and in the technology that allows lights, questions and screens to work in sync.

There might be copyright in certain parts of the scripted lines of the host, and in set design plans. Confidential information about the manner in which the show fits together may be policed by a series of contractual undertakings between the contestants, hosts and the TV companies.

11. Get the Necessary Professional Certification

It is very important to state that professional certification is a process by which a person develops the knowledge, experience, and skills to perform a specific job. Immediately the individual completes a course of study, he or she receives a certificate earned by passing an exam that is accredited by an organization or association that monitors and upholds prescribed standards for the particular industry involved. Professional certification in this industry may include;

  • ASIS certification
  • ATD Certification
  • MCP certification
  • Certified Professional in Learning & Performance (CPLP)

12. Get the Necessary Legal Documents You Need to Operate

While it is tempting to dig into the vision of your business and start making your idea a reality, it is important that you pause and cover all the necessary legal bases. Below, we have outlined the core legal documents that you will need when starting your business;

  • Bylaws
  • Intellectual property protection agreement
  • Article of Incorporation
  • Operating Agreement
  • Shooting permit
  • Non-closure agreement
  • Employee contracts and offer letters
  • Insurance

13. Raise the Needed Startup Capital

Note that starting a reality TV show needs pre-production with all hiring crew, obtaining shooting permits, and many other things that will gulp a lot of money. If you cannot pool together all the required funds from your own end, then you will have to seek financing from third parties such as investors. If your idea or concept is really interesting and unique, you should be able to find interested investors without much stress. Possible ways to get funding may include;

  • Personal savings
  • Pitching
  • angel investors
  • Partnership
  • Venture Capital
  • Loans and grants
  • Alternative funding source like Crowdfunding

14. Choose a Suitable Location for your Business

Having a good location can be vital for any business, but choosing the right one can be something of a balancing act. Ideally, the location should be convenient for your employees – without being too expensive. You should also consider;

  • the level of passing trade
  • the number of competitors
  • transport links and parking
  • planning restrictions
  • local council charges and business rates for services such as waste collection
  • local amenities

Despite the option you go for, there are likely to be advantages and disadvantages to the business location. An office in a rural setting might be relaxing, but could be awkward for staff or suppliers making deliveries. Being right in the middle of the city could be very convenient, but might also be expensive. Location has a major impact on cost. If you need premises in a prime location the extra costs may be justified.

15. Hire Employees for your Technical and Manpower Needs

Note that a typical reality show field crew would be made up of a camera person (handheld), a sound person carrying a boom mic, and a producer taking notes for story and interviews. Also, the on-camera “talent” would be mic’ed with lavalieres.

But it all depends on how much action there is to cover, at least two crews are ideal, to have cross angles on say, a conversation between two people. And, as always, get lots of b-roll! When it comes to the post and broadcast, a laptop, NLE editing software, and the internet are all you need.

It is very crucial that you understand the importance of a reality camera person that knows how to capture good image and sound. A steady camera, handles (let camera roll long before and long after the action), well-composed shot, good lighting, and knowledge of coverage (various size angles: close up, medium, wide.

Face shots of people speaking, hand shots of action, inserts of topics spoken about, b-roll (lots!), and room tone.) so note that good sound is probably more important than a good image. Indeed your viewers will forgive a bad image if they can clearly hear what is going on but not the other way around. Even if you have a beautiful image of two people speaking, it will not do if you can’t hear them. And don’t forget the room tone.

The Service Delivery Process of the Business

After you must have chosen your business location and are ready to start your show, your next step is to write a full synopsis, future episode guide and plot guide script for the pilot episode script for the host or voice-overs. You need to make sure to break down your script and decide how to go about the filming process.

You also need to protect your idea by registering with the appropriate agency for copyright protection in your state or country. Have it in mind when writing your synopsis that the key is efficiency in describing the elements and action involved, and also creating enough detail to be original.

Then following a shooting schedule you would have created earlier, shoot your reality TV show as planned. Always ensure to employ a professional editor to go through the footage and edit it into a compelling and interesting piece of entertainment. We advise that if you want everything to be done in line with your preferences, sit with the editor as he reviews and edits the footage of the show.

After you are done with the shooting and editing, the next thing is to promote. You can start by shopping it around to networks and production companies, and sending them tapes of the show when requested. It is also important to state that your major targets are leading production companies that are always scouting for new interesting projects to invest in.

Immediately you are able to get a deal with one of such companies, then your work stops right at that point because the company will be responsible for delivering the show to the network for airing, and you will be remunerated handsomely depending on the agreement you reach with the company.

However, have it in mind that a lot of networks and production companies will not accept your pitch for review if it doesn’t come through an agent. This is why if you are going through the traditional route of broadcasting your show on TV, you should consider pitching an agent with connections to TV production companies or TV networks around your location.

One more thing also important to note is that you can post your video online using sites like YouTube, and then promote the show to gather a huge following of loyal fans. We believe this is a cheaper and less strenuous option to adopt if you want to forget the traditional way of getting your show on TV.

Immediately you have struck a good deal with a TC network or production company, or you have successfully gathered a large audience online with your first episode, you need to go back to shooting additional episodes and promoting the show until your audience grows well enough to be noticed by large networks, advertisers, and studios.

16. Write a Marketing Plan Packed with ideas & Strategies

Most entrepreneurs will think that marketing is irrelevant for a reality show. If you really believe it, then you are sure deceiving yourself. The reality show business needs marketing as well as any other business known to man. Marketing this business might be expensive, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up. Have it in mind that nothing good comes easy. Ways to market your reality show includes;

  • Traditional advertising

Print, TV, outdoor media, etc.

  • Online adverting

Allows a more demographically targeted campaign with measurable interaction.

  • Social media

(Remember social media is about people not advertising) building engagement with information, trivia and even having characters (not the actors but the illusion of the characters) from the show interact via social media. This makes the show a multimedia experience and adds depth to the show.

  • Cross promotion with other shows or products

Sometimes selling a product endorsed or branded with the show or characters builds identity and engagement.

17. Develop Iron-clad Competitive Strategies to Help You Win

In this industry, one of the best ways to shine in the spotlight is to bring something new to the table. It is advised that you check out what your competitors are doing, and then look for something else. Try to search for something that may have the potential to sell but is yet to be filmed. The world is always looking for something new, the next best thing that can add even more to the uniqueness of the industry. Some ways to win your competitors in this business may include;

  • Do something unique – publicity stunt
  • Be smart with press junkets
  • Pre-Roll Video Advertising
  • Let your viewers enjoy the story
  • IMDB Listings & Advertising
  • Involve your audience in the making of the film
  • Make your social media pages interactive
  • Auction props used in the show

18. Brainstorm Possible Ways to Retain Clients & Customers

Note that this stage is a stage every business wants to attain. Having customers who stick to your show and preach how good your shows are can go a long way to help your business get to the top. So to retain your customers in your show, you need to;

  • Make them part of the show
  • Take your advertisement to the people
  • Keep them interested
  • Be real
  • Give them clear pictures and sound
  • Don’t be boring

19. Develop Strategies to Boost Brand Awareness and Create a Corporate Identity

There are a few things unique about marketing reality shows. Timing is incredibly important – you must build up as much hype in the short space of time leading up to and around the launch as possible. Ways to boost your show brand awareness may include;

  • Simplify
  • Start with reputation
  • Use your personality
  • Tailor the message
  • Take questions
  • Be concrete
  • End with a memory cue