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Is Generation-Z better at reality TV? ‘The Circle’ might just prove it

The era of reality TV in the 2000s was plagued with crazy drama and often trashy stories, that would often be scripted.

If you’ve heard anything about behind-the-scenes it’s even worse. Editors and producers on reality TV can be brutal and manipulative to the people on the show and the audience. A good representation of this is the fictionalized series Unreal.

Because of this flat way of storytelling, reality TV took a “guilty pleasure” place in our society. People often referred to it as stupid, basic but insanely addicting. Almost all of us have that one show we know is trash but can’t stop watching.

Whether it’s Keeping Up With The Kardashians, The Bachelor, Jersey Shore, or Real World, they end up having a major impact on us. Most would say a negative one.

So how does Netflix’s new reality show The Circle hit us? Is Gen Z reality TV just, overall, better?

 First off what is The Circle?

The show plays on the concept that you can be anybody when you’re on social media. Whether that’s the best version of yourself, the worst version, an aspirational version or just a straight-up catfish.

The show is set up with eight players who live in their own apartments isolated from the world, where they cannot see or hear each other and can only communicate with each other via ‘the circle’ the show’s version of social media.

They must interact, build relationships and ultimately make it through being ‘blocked’ to the end and based on their popularity (rated by each other) win $100,000.

But how is The Circle different from traditional reality TV?

The show was originally a British TV show created by Tim Harcourt, but it’s obvious that The Circle is the brainchild of a Millennial/Gen Z crew. So they’ve got standards. Those standards included authenticity, environmental impact, mental health awareness, and relevancy.

Is it real?

According to former players, The Circle is indeed real and not scripted.

It’s actually quite mentally exhausting. Players are isolated for weeks without access to the outside world. This means no phones, a connection to the internet, not even Netflix! So how do they pass the time when they’re not talking to each other? A book, some cards, a remote control race car.

But is it safe?

With only some allotted time on the roof of the apartment building with natural light and some time at the gym, things can get very “cabin fevery.” Of course, there’s always someone on the production team of The Circle watching. So, help is only a minute away including mental health help with the onsite psychologist.

What effect does it have on us? [Spoilers]

From the people that watched The Circle, there’s a clear understanding from most that it held up a mirror to our current society and how we judge people online. Packaged in a fun and entertaining set of hour-long episodes, The Circle has plenty of examples of everyday issues people face in the ‘real online world.’

“This show is stupid bc it’s supposed to make you feel like “awww everyone loves each other because of what they say not what they look like” highlighted by Chris and Mercedes finally meeting. But like, that’s kind of how I approached it coming into it so I personally loved it. I thought their interactions were hilarious and people are actually really like this in real life” – Medina


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One of the characters was Sean, a plus-size social media manager who used her thin best friend’s photo as her image, then later revealed to the other players her true appearance. Some applauded her for bravery to share her true identity.

Others said they valued honesty and felt that she should’ve come in as herself, a sentiment they did not express when other catfish were revealed. This was noticed by audiences who remarked that the show inadvertently presented us with fatphobia, and how society still reacts towards plus size women.

There was even a group chat titled “Skinny Queens” by one of the characters.

“The catty gendered divisions were upsetting and felt heightened due to its focus on superficial ideas such as profile pictures. Rejecting the blonde model versus the douchey Jersey Shore guy highlighted this for me. But it also showed that women are more critical of each other than men often are. Which is a PROBLEM.”  – Joshua

Racism and Stereotyping

Other audiences noted the overwhelmingly all-white influx of new players into the game as it went on.

On the show, there were only two Black women, both of them catfish, one was called “mean” by a contestant who only saw her photo and rated her low. But in the same breath called another woman, a Latina, “feisty” and rated her higher.

One of the players was Indian American and was judged as the stereotype of the adorable techie from the get-go. The players said he seemed cute but regardless he found himself rated at the very bottom in the first round.

“They were dragging Mercedez for the filter she put on her pic, but ain’t say a damn thing when Sean’s catfish pic also had a filter. They kept painting Mercedez as feisty and problematic. Also, it bothered me that the only two black women on the show were catfishes.” -Jennifer

All of the catfish understood the idea that looking attractive would be an advantage in the game. And they’re not wrong. The show presented us with the connection between attractive appearance, popularity, and winning actual capital.

“They definitely judged each other based on how genuine and real they seemed, even if their own persona was fictional.” – Suzana

Should The Circle exist?

If you noticed just some of these themes while watching, then perhaps there’s some positivity in The Circle’s existence. Some of the battles against the worst parts of our humanity is just seeing those parts for what they are.

“It’s cool that those who stayed true to themselves, in the end, made it through and won but the dynamic with the catfish Rebecca still left weariness because no matter the connection people can be different than who they say they are” – Raquel

Steve Stoute speaks on leading with ‘ethnic insights’ at Hashtag Sports

Last week I attended the Hashtag Sports conference at The Times Center.

While the event was primarily dedicated to uncovering the New Sports Economy for the new generation, hearing industry leaders share insights regarding their personal journeys helped refine my understanding of my own current generation.

This current era is comprised of both millennials and Gen-Z; we are the immediate by-products of the technological era we grew up in.

As our smartphones, computers, and other technological sources of information root themselves deeper within our daily lives, we become more callous to the bombardment of information we call “content.”

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And yet as we grow less-receptive to all this random clutter, we simultaneously become more selective in the type of news we consume.

Our respective social media platforms have flourished in becoming a reflection of our values and interests, in simpler terms our “culture.” And as a millennial myself, what I’ve come to realize is that our generation is most appreciative of authenticity.

In the opening panel of the 2018 Hashtag Sports Conference, Translation’s CEO Steve Stoute, reaffirmed this very sentiment that I’ve wholeheartedly believed from the very beginning.

Mr. Stoute told the audience, for brands to engage with the largest growing untapped consumer segment of millennials and Gen-Z, “you must lead with ethnic insight,” which in other words, “is synonymous to popular culture.”

I don’t know if you’ve realized, but this generation is quick to call bullshit when they see it. That’s why so many companies are scrambling to interact with us now.

By the early 2020s, Gen Z will be 40% of the market, so if companies don’t engage right now, they won’t be able to get us at all. Our generation is crucial for the survival of a majority of media outlets today, some of which are in the midst of experimenting with a variety of platforms and content, as they pray for one of them to stick.

Nevertheless, Stoute offered a logical and practical solution:

“Have the people that work in your company, look like the people you’re trying to sell your products to.”

If a company is targeting an older segment of grandparents, then hire an older figure to share and offer insights internally.

Likewise, if a brand is targeting the millennials and Gen-Z group, they must bring in someone from that very segmentation to understand how we perceive, consume, and think as a collective.

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Companies and brands must first understand who they’re reaching and how the message will resonate only if they are able to find true and authentic cultural insights.

Before he concluded, Stoute emphasized, “empathy allows you to see various perspectives.”

In today’s day and age, it seems like empathy is a trait that well-established companies are unfamiliar with.

Their attempts seem rather forced and inauthentic, like a middle-aged father sharing stale and worn-out “dad-jokes” to his confused and unamused children.

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Empathy begins with a willingness to understand, and if brands are truly willing to hear us out, I think it begins with companies trusting our lived experiences growing up in the technological era we did.

I believe millennials and Gen-Z are the key to our future. What do you think?

How the Hashtag Sports Conference will be giving insight into Gen-Z

Next week, Hashtag Sports will be hosting a conference in Times Square to focus on the New Sports Economy for the next generation.

Over the course of three days, industry leaders will gather to make original announcements, share insights, and offer bold predictions on the state of the sports industry and what’s next to come. The New Sports Economy is an increasingly challenging market.

Because technology is diversifying the way fans are experiencing sports, this conference will be instrumental in how sports will be consumed.

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After peeping over the events and panels that Hashtag Sports will host from June 25-28th, it’s easy to see that they are truly for the next generation.

Here are six conversations that will undoubtedly improve the sports experience as a whole:

Marketing to Gen-Z: Building Brand Credibility with Young Fans

Generation-Z is one of the most perplexing and challenging groups to reach, but their loyalty is unmatched.

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Youth engagement strategist Gregg Witt will lead this talk, as he guides brands into youth culture, leveraging influential and youth creators as more than messaging agents, and share best practices for building credibility with sports’ most influential cohort.

Deconstructing Gen-Z: Understanding and Engaging the Multi-Faceted Kids Market

Hashtag Sports understands that the youth is the future.

This talk will attempt to understand the next generation and shed light on deconstructing who they are and who they want to become.

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Reaching them where their attention is focused and understanding why they are focusing their attention in those places.

A New Era of Athlete Branding

Appropriate branding is the crux for building a following. Today’s athletes have a unique opportunity to build their brands beyond the lines of their sport.

With social media, athletes can access the ultra-passionate fanbases that drive sports and — when armed with the right content — can build audiences that rival that of their school, team, and the league.

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JuJu Smith-Schuster from the Pittsburgh Steelers will join opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence to discuss his brand journey from college to the NFL.

They’ll address his personal brand strategy, the role of his reps, team, and league, and the future of athlete marketing in a technologically-oriented society.

Bleacher Report: House of Highlights

Bleacher Report and specifically House of Highlights has established themselves as the sports voice for this generation.

With more than 9 million followers, House of Highlights is an account that influences behavior and has zeroed in on Gen-Z.

During this panel, Omar Raja, the founder of HoH, will explain how he capitalized on his audience and why the multi-cultural Generation-Z consumers are being underserved by traditional media outlets.

JuJu will join Omar for a raw conversation on how to keep it real on platforms.

How Innovation and Technology are Transforming the Global Fan Experience

Technology has inherently altered the way fans are experiencing sports.

Now more than ever, sports teams and leagues are relying on innovative technologies to identify insights that can improve the fan’s experience wherever they are.

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Notable CMOs will explain how to create fan value that drives interest, engagement and lifelong fandom.

Hulu: Reinventing Sports For The Connected Fan

I surmised Hulu was up to something when they came forward as one of the main sponsors for the NBA Finals this past year.

That’s why Hulu’s own Richard Irving will address how Hulu is building hyper-personalized sports experiences appropriate for die-hard fans, and even the casual fan as well.

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Hashtag Sports is prioritizing the next generation and they understand how technology is altering the way sports will be consumed.

This will be pivotal for the culture moving forward, and it’s exciting to see these guys are inspiring the conversation for Gen-Z.