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Publicized Intimacies on Reality Television: An Analysis of Voyeuristic Content and Its Contribution to the Appeal of Reality Programming

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Given that reality television is not a cohesive genre, a better understanding of the frequently noted voyeuristic appeal of reality programs would require an analysis of content features that may contribute to their voyeuristic appeal. A survey administered to television viewers and a content analysis of reality programs support hypotheses regarding the voyeuristic appeal of reality programs in general, and suggest that scenes which adopt a fly on the wall perspective, take place in private settings, contain nudity, and/or include gossip, contribute to the voyeuristic appeal of reality programs
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Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009
Publicized Intimacies on Reality
Television: An Analysis of Voyeuristic
Content and Its Contribution to the
Appeal of Reality Programming
Lemi Baruh
Given that reality television is not a cohesive genre, a better understanding of
the frequently noted voyeuristic appeal of reality programswouldrequirean
analysis of content features that may contribute to their voyeuristic appeal.
Asurveyadministeredtotelevisionviewersandacontentanalysis of real-
ity programs support hypotheses regarding the voyeuristic appeal of reality
programs in general, and suggest that scenes which adopt a ‘‘fly on the wall
perspective,’’ take place in private settings, contain nudity, and/or include
gossip, contribute to the voyeuristic appeal of reality programs.
Accounts of the rising popularity of reality television citevoyeurismasanim-
portant reason for its success among viewers. Several studies suggest that televi-
sion viewers themselves perceive reality programs to be bothexhibitionisticand
voyeuristic (Hill, 2005), and acknowledge that they are drawn to this voyeuristic
component of reality programs (Johnson-Woods, 2002). Similarly, studies focusing
on the psychological appeal of reality television provide preliminary empirical
evidence regarding the positive association between the tendency to use media for
voyeuristic purposes and the consumption of reality programs (Nabi, Biely, Morgan
&Stitt; 2003;Nabi,Stitt,Halford&Finnerty,2006;Papacharissi & Mendelson,
2007).
However, an important flaw in this assumption regarding the voyeuristic appeal of
reality television is that not all reality programs are created equal. Reality television
is a catchall phrase alluding to many different formats (Brenton & Cohen, 2003;
Dovey, 2000). Hence, developing a coherent understanding ofrealityprograms
voyeuristic appeal requires the identification of programming attributes that ac-
commodate television viewers’ voyeurism. In order to address this need, a content
analysis and a survey were used in conjunction with each othertoidentifycontent
Lemi Baruh (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Advertising at
the Faculty of Communication at Kadir Has University, Istanbul. His research interests include new media
technologies, surveillance and social psychology of attitudes related to privacy and voyeurism.
The author would like to thank Dr. Oscar H. Gandy, Dr. Robert C.Hornik,Dr.PaulMessaris,HardyGriffin,
and the reviewers for their valuable input.
©2009 Broadcast Education Association Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 53(2), 2009, pp. 190–210
DOI: 10.1080/08838150902907678 ISSN: 0883-8151 print/1550-6878 online
190
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features that may contribute to the voyeuristic appeal of reality programs. First,
informed by concepts related to accessibility of information and private behavior,
the content analysis counted the presence of programming features that may add
to a program’s voyeuristic appeal. Then, the results from thecontentanalysiswere
used to weight the survey data investigating the associationbetweenvoyeurismand
reality television consumption to identify the content features that contribute to a
reality program’s voyeuristic appeal.
Voyeuristic Appeal of Reality TV
Dimensions of Voyeuristic Tendencies
The construct of voyeurism adopted in this article differs from the conceptualiza-
tion of voyeurism utilized in the psychiatric domain, which defines voyeurism as
apsychopathologicalconditioncharacterizedbybecomingsexually aroused from
the covert observation of others while they have sex, or are nude (Freund, Watson
&Rienzo,1988).Ratherthanemphasizingsexualdeviance,recent accounts of
contemporary culture conceptualize voyeurism as a common (and not solely sexual)
pleasure derived from access to private details (Metzl, 2004). Accordingly, partly
because of electronic media, curious peeking into the private lives of others has
become a defining characteristic of contemporary society (Calvert, 2004).
Despite growing interest in non-pathological voyeurism, there is very little re-
search exploring its psychological dimensions (Rye & Meaney, 2007). The construct
of voyeurism as a common form of guilty pleasure points to several important
dimensions of a typical individual’s voyeuristic tendencies. First, in contrast to the
covert nature of pathological voyeurism, ‘‘normal’’ voyeurism is satisfied through
more acceptable and consensual forms such as films, gossip news and/or webcams
(Koskela, 2004; Ytreberg, 2002). Second, as evidenced by thehighnumberofgov-
ernment and private sector employees browsing personalinformation just for sport—
Sullivan (2008) labels this data voyeurism—the normal voyeur is opportunistic, and
the act of looking or listening can be considered an end in itself. Third, not all forms
of observation will be satisfactory: the appeal of voyeurismisthepleasurederived
from learning about what is typically forbidden or private (Calvert, 2004; Metzl,
2004).
The Appeal of Reality TV for the ‘‘Normal’’ Voyeur
AcentraltenetoftheUsesandGratificationsperspectiveisthataudiencemem-
bers actively engage in content selection in order to fulfillcertainneeds(Katz,
Blumler & Gurevitch, 1974). If so, to the extent that non-pathological voyeurism is
defined as an opportunistic tendency to derive pleasure fromlearningaboutothers
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192 Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009
private details, the question is whether, and to what extent reality programs can
accommodate this form of voyeurism.
Part of the answer to this question comes from the branding of reality program-
ming as privacy invasive voyeur television (Calvert, 2004).Extantresearchsuggests
that genre labels may provide meaningful signals for viewers, influencing their pref-
erences for specific television programs (Hall, 2007; Webster & Wakshlag, 1983).
Considered from this perspective, reality programs promise(andpartlydeliver)
the ‘‘thrill of seeing something intimate ::: and doing so remotely and without
accountability’’ (Deery, 2004, p. 6). Deery’s comment aboutremotenessofthe
gaze underlines another component of the voyeuristic appealofrealityprograms:
the panoptic mode of observation within which there is an informational asymmetry
between the audience member and the program participant, whocantgazebackat
the viewer. This panoptic mode and the perceived distance between the viewer and
the target allow the viewer to enjoy the private and the stolen(Lakoff&Johnson,
1999).
Long before reality television, starting in the 1900s, contemporary society wit-
nessed the birth of the cinematic gaze through which viewers enjoy this panoptic
mode of looking (Denzin, 1995). However, reality programs differ from cinema
and other forms of content due to the aura of realism and spontaneity they in-
voke (Calvert, 2004; Ruddock, 2008). Despite producer interventions and viewers’
awareness that participants often act for the camera, the voyeuristic appeal of reality
programs differs from other genres because ‘‘viewer detection skills are exercised
not on ::: celebrities ::: but on the ‘real’ people ‘just like the viewers’’’ (Andrejevic,
2006, p. 401).
The voyeuristic appeal of gazing upon individuals who come from the audiences
ranks is also closely linked to the reciprocity of the voyeuristic needs of television
viewers and the exhibitionism of the program participants (Groombridge, 2002).
Accordingly, in an era of extensive surveillance, webcams, blogs and reality televi-
sion allow individuals to engage in ‘‘empowering exhibitionism’’ to reclaim control
over the dissemination of information about themselves (Koskela, 2004, p.199). The
reciprocity of the relationship between the voyeur and the exhibitionist is not only
because the exhibitionist needs an audience to be successfulinreclaimingcontrol
over the information (Dholakia & Zwick, 2001), but is also duetothefactthat
the non-pathological voyeur, looking for safe ways to gaze, needs the exhibitionist.
Then, what reality programs do is to provide this safe, legally sanctioned (albeit
potentially less fulfilling than corporeal) venue for the voyeur to meet the exhibitor.
H1:Thehigherthevoyeuristictendencyofanaudiencemember,the more likely
he/she will be to watch reality programs.
Avalidconcernregardingthisconceptualizationof‘normal’’ voyeurism is that
it is very similar to psychological drives (social curiosity) to learn about other
individuals. For example, it has been shown that some people who are more likely to
be curious about others will either engage in social comparison (Gibbons & Buunk,
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Baruh/PUBLICIZED INTIMACIES ON REALITY TELEVISION 193
1999), or regulate their own conduct (self-monitoring) by observing others (Lennox &
Wolfe, 1984). Social comparison researchers suggest that the ultimate goal of social
comparison is self-evaluation (White & Lehman, 2005). Similarly, high self-monitors
have been found to be sensitive to the behavioral cues of otherpeopleprimarilyfor
the purposes of self-adjustment and validation (Snyder, 1974). Conceptually, then,
these two orientations differ from voyeurism in their purposeful utilization of looking
at others to satisfy social needs such as figuring out how one fares in comparison
with others. With their focus on the experiences of individuals from viewers’ ranks,
reality programs may also be a source of information for social comparison and
self-monitoring. If so, an important question that needs to be answered is whether
voyeurism is distinct from such a tendency for social comparison and self-monitoring
in terms of predicting the consumption of reality programs.
RQ1:Aftercontrollingforsocialcomparisonandself-monitoring, will voyeurism
be positively associated with watching reality television?
The Voyeuristic Appeal of Reality Content Features
Although genre labels may have an important influence on the programming
choices that viewers make, these choices are more likely to depend on the content
of specific programs as viewers get more acquainted with a genre (Hall, 2007).
As suggested in the discussion above, an important dimensionofnon-pathological
voyeurism is its reliance on ‘‘consumption of revealing images ::: at the expense
of privacy’’ (Calvert, 2004, p. 2). Considered from this perspective, social norms
regarding privacy and intimacy are a proper starting point for the identification of
content features that may contribute to a reality program’s voyeuristic appeal.
Acommonusageoftheconceptofprivacyistorefertoprivatespaces (Post,
1989). The walls themselves act to separate the private from the public due to their
symbolic function as a communication barrier (Goffman, 1963). On the other hand,
like other forms of mediated experiences (Drotner, 2005; Meyrowitz, 1985), reality
programs cross these normative barriers suggested by physical space and do so at
varying levels (with, for example, Big Brother taking place inside a house, and the
Jerry Springer Show taking place in an auditorium open to the public).
Clearly, the presence of television cameras and participants’ consent to be recorded
by these same cameras make each reality television set an essentially public set-
ting. However, in evaluating audience-content interaction, the proper question is
not whether the mediated experience replicates the actual one, but rather what
relationship is implied by the mediated experience (Ruddock, 2008). For example,
McGrath (2004) summarizes a gay bar show, during which a stripper, after dancing
on stage, goes back to the changing room to take a shower while the bar patrons
watch him on a live camera feed. Despite the patrons’ awareness that their viewing
was consensual (and staged), the voyeuristic enjoyment of the live camera feed
was reportedly higher than the dance show on stage. Likewise,itisexpectedthat
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194 Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009
in reality shows, symbolic signs indicating that an interaction is taking place in
asettingthatimpliesaprivateratherthanapublicspacewill contribute to the
voyeuristic appeal of reality programs.
H2:Voyeurismwillbeassociatedwithhigherconsumptionofreality programs
that depict interactions taking place in private settings.
McGrath’s (2004) example with respect to the enjoyment of a live camera feed
depicting a typically private space also points to the role the camera may play in
situating the viewer vis-à-vis what’s happening on screen. In this case, the camera
was situated to adopt a ‘‘fly on the wall’’ perspective—a production technique
that makes the extra-diagetic elements less visible, helping the viewers assume
the role of an unobtrusive, distant observer (like a voyeur) (Biressi & Nunn, 2005;
Jones, 2003). In contrast, when the camera’s presence becomes more visible, the
‘‘fourth wall’’ between the viewer and the character on screen breaks, allowing
the viewer to become more like a confidante interacting with the character (Rubin,
Perse & Powell, 1985). In reality programs, breaking the fourth wall usually occurs
through conventions such as voice-over descriptions from participants or video
diaries within which a secluded participant directly addresses the viewers to tell
their side of the story. If the ‘‘fly on the wall’’ perspectivecreatesadistance
between the viewer and the characters on screen, it may be moreconduciveto
voyeuristic enjoyment of reality programs than conventionsthatbreakthefourth
wall.
H3:Voyeurismwillbeassociatedwithahigherconsumptionofthose reality
programs that more frequently adopt a ‘‘fly on the wall’’ perspective.
Aconceptualizationofprivacythatreliessolelyonphysical demarcations does
not paint the whole picture with respect to content features that may accommodate
the voyeuristic needs of viewers to have access to the private. An alternative way
to think about social relations is to treat them as information systems that differ
from each other in terms of the accessibility of social information, with certain
behaviors being less accessible (with higher backstage bias) than others (Mey-
rowitz, 1985). As such, privacy is not only physical seclusion but also the ability
to selectively determine which behaviors are shared with whom. This function
of privacy is closely linked to establishment of intimate—shared and exclusive—
relations (Westin, 1967).
Research on the psychology of intimate relations points to several self-expressive
behaviors that individuals conventionally associate with intimacy and hence to
what should be less frequently accessible. Starting with adolescence, the disclosure
of personal details becomes an important behavioral dimension of establishing
intimate friendships (Gottman & Mettetal, 1986). Accordingly, before disclosing
personal details, individuals require the establishment ofreciprocaltrust(Lee,Im&
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Taylor, 2008). A second form of disclosure that develops overtimewithintimate
relationships is gossip—broadly defined as negative and positive talk about others in
their absence (McNelles & Connoly, 1999). Not only are peoplelesslikelytogossip
around people with whom they have not developed close ties—potentially because
gossip may contain risky opinions—but also the act of gossiping may function as
asignalthataspecialbondhasbeenestablished(Gottman&Mettetal, 1986). The
third type of self-expression frequently associated with intimacy is the expression of
emotions. The concept of display rules, for example, refers to individuals’ attempts
to manage (via attenuating or inhibiting) expressions of emotions. Especially for
negative emotions, there is usually an unspoken rule that emotions are a private
matter with backstage bias and should be accessible only to the right people (Ekman
&Friesen,1969).
It is important to note that social conventions related to theinaccessibilityof
these private behaviors (such as self-disclosure or gossip)requirerestraintboth
on the side of the source and the potential recipient. Individuals are said to be
required to show restraint (modesty) in displaying such behavior because it may cast
anegativelightonthem,ormakethemseemmorevulnerableand/or promiscuous
(Scheff & Retzinger, 2000). Similarly, for potential witnesses, the failure to recognize
boundaries for backstage behaviors is associated with incivility (Goffman, 1963). On
the other hand, reality programs may offer the opportunity for both sides to break
these social expectations regarding intimacy: The participants choose disclosure
instead of modesty, and the viewers choose not to look away, but rather gaze
carefully when private moments are revealed. Hence, from thepointofviewofthe
viewers, the following is expected:
H4:Voyeurismwillbeassociatedwithahigherconsumptionofreality programs
in which participants more frequently disclose personal information.
H5:Voyeurismwillbeassociatedwithahigherconsumptionofreality programs
in which participants engage in gossip.
H6:Voyeurismwillbeassociatedwithahigherconsumptionofreality programs
in which participants exhibit private emotions.
In addition to self-disclosure, gossip, and the expression of emotions, sexual
behavior and nudity are also situations with backstage bias that reality programs
make accessible to the viewers. If so, voyeuristic pleasure derived from reality
programs should similarly be higher for programs that contain more nudity or sexual
behavior.
H7:Voyeurismwillbeassociatedwithahigherconsumptionofreality programs
exhibiting sexual behavior.
H8:Voyeurismwillbeassociatedwithahigherconsumptionofreality programs
exhibiting nudity.
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196 Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009
Method
In order to test the aforementioned hypotheses, this study utilized a content analy-
sis of 15 reality programs in conjunction with a cross-sectional survey that measured
exposure to the content-analyzed reality programs and respondents’ voyeuristic
tendencies.
Survey Instrument
Sample and Procedures. Reality programming consumption data for this article
comes from a cross-sectional survey about media use completed in January 2006.
An e-mail invitation was sent to 3437 potential participantsintheUSwhohad
previously joined an online panel to take surveys in exchangeforfinancialincen-
tives. Out of 3437 who received the invitation to participateinthesurvey,550
respondents completed the survey (a 16% response rate). Respondents’ mean age
was 46, and slightly more than half were female (55%). Of the respondents, 32%
had some college experience, 29% had a college degree, and 19%hadahigh
school degree. A large majority of the respondents were White(86%),followedby
African Americans (6%).
In addition to demographic characteristics, three sets of variables from the survey
are pertinent to the hypotheses presented here. First, the survey contained four
variables measuring the frequency with which respondents watched television dur-
ing weekdays, weeknights, weekend days and weekend nights (ranging from 0 to
7hours,ormore).Themedianfortelevisionwatchingwasbetween 1 to 2 hours
for weekdays, and 2 to 3 hours for weeknights, weekend days andweekendnights,
resulting in approximately 4 to 5 hours of television per day.Inordertomeasure
reality television consumption, the respondents were askedtorateonascaleranging
from never (0) to more than once a week (6) the frequency with which they watched
28 television programs, 15 reality programs (also content analyzed), and 13 diverter
programs from other genres. Using a selection with probability in proportion to size
sampling method (programs with higher household shares weremorelikelytobe
sampled), the reality programs to be included in the survey were selected from a list
of reality programs aired in major U.S. broadcast networks inprime-timefromJune
to December 2005. An overall reality television exposure score was computed by
summing the frequency of exposure scores of each reality program. The resulting
index of exposure scores had a median of 10 (MD10.6, SD D10.4).
Second, the survey measured the voyeuristic tendencies of the respondents. Table 1
provides a list of the items used to measure voyeuristic orientation by asking respon-
dents about how they would react if they accidentally came across opportunities
to peek into others’ lives [immediately stop looking/listening/reading (1) to try to
see/hear/read all they could (7)]. These items were then summed to form a highly
reliable (Cronbach’s ˛D.91) voyeurism scale with a median of 20 (MD22.4,
SD D11.2).
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Table 1
Voyeurism Scale
Scale Items
Median
Score
If you realized that you could see inside the bedroom of your
neighbors because they forgot to close their curtains.
2
If you were to overhear your next door neighbors discussing their
sexual lives.
2
If you were to read a message that was sent to somebody else. 3
If you were part of a conversation where your friends were gossiping
about the sexual life of a person you’re familiar with.
3
You realized that instead of giving you your own photograph prints,
the photo lab gave you a set of photographs showing a couple
skinny-dipping in a pool.
3
While shopping in a clothing store, you see a gap through which
you can see inside a dressing room.
1
If you were to overhear a husband and wife discussing problemsthat
they are having with their kids and/or other family members.
2
If you were to witness someone having an emotional breakdown
and displaying extreme anger or sadness.
3
Finally, in order to control for the tendency to gather socialinformationfor
purposes of social comparison and/or self-monitoring, partial scales using three
items from Gibbons and Buunk’s (1999) Social Comparison scale (MD12.7, SD D
3.9, Cronbach’s ˛D.72, e.g., ‘‘I always pay attention to how I do things com-
pared to how others do things’’) and Lennox and Wolfe’s (1984)Self-Monitoring
scale (MD14.3, SD D3.5, Cronbach’s ˛D.78, e.g., ‘‘My powers of intuition
are good when it comes to understanding others’ emotions and motives’’) were
used.
Content Analysis. The content analysis was performed on 15 reality programs
for which exposure data was collected in the survey. Because the analysis focused
on moving images, the unitization of the sampled programs needed to maintain
abalancebetweenprovidingcoderswithsufficientinformation about a scene’s
context and ensuring that the coding units would not contain alotofinformation
(Krippendorf, 2004).
For each content-analyzed program, all episodes aired at prime-time between
June 15 and December 15, 2005 (two weeks before the deploymentofthesurvey)
were recorded. Once recorded, each program was divided into approximately 5-
minute long intervals, which would also be used as contextualunitsthatcoders
could use to understand what happens before and after a specific scene. The
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198 Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009
duration of these 5-minute intervals were allowed to slightly deviate from 5 minutes
to ensure that every scene within the interval had its naturalbeginningandend.
Then, six of the 5-minute intervals were randomly selected tocreateacomposite
episode for each program. At that point, each composite episode was divided into
scenes to be used as the units of analysis. Each instance of change in time, space, or
participants taking a major role in a given interaction, was coded as a new scene.
The reliability of this unitization process, checked by coders’ agreement on the
timestamp of changes, was very good (Krippendorff’s ˛D.92).
For the content analysis, two coders were first shown the 5-minute intervals as
the contextual unit, and then were presented, in a sequentialorder,thescenes
they would code. Table 2 provides a list of the content analysis variables and their
Table 2
Content Analysis Variables
Variable
Level of
Measurement
Krippendorff’s
Alphaa
Private v. public setting Nominal .92
Fly on the wall Nominal .94
Personal information
Financial status Ordinal N/Ab
Occupation Ordinal .80
Education Ordinal .98
Drug use Ordinal N/A
Alcohol use Ordinal .85
Physical health Ordinal .88
Mental health Ordinal .86
Religious beliefs Ordinal N/A
Political orientation Ordinal N/A
Sexual lives Ordinal .89
Negative emotions Nominal .87
Non-negative emotions Nominal .78
Gossip: Positive talk about others in absence Nominal .81
Gossip: Negative talk about others in absence Nominal .79
Casual touching/kissing Nominal .67
Intimate kissing/touching Nominal 1.00
Sexual intercourse Nominal N/A
Full nudity: Visibility of sexual organs Nominal .88
Partial nudity: Visibility of undergarments Nominal .80
aNfor reliability D216. bN/A: Reliability statistics not calculated because of lack of variation
for units coded to calculate intercoder reliability.
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intercoder reliability (Krippendorff’s ˛)calculatedusing216(outof2151scenes
within the sampled 5-minute intervals) units coded for content analysis.
The content analysis instrument was divided into three sections. The first section
focused on the physical privateness of the setting by distinguishing between private
or semi-private spaces (e.g., inside one’s house, board rooms), limited public spaces
(open to a limited group of people, e.g., restaurants, waiting rooms), and public
spaces (open to all individuals, e.g., parks, streets) (˛D.92). Excluded from the
analysis of spatial privacy were narrations during which video collages of different
settings with various privacy levels were shown. This section also contained a
variable measuring the presence of the ‘‘fly on the wall’’ perspective. For this
variable, the coders were asked to categorize each scene in terms of whether the
characters on the screen directly addressed the viewers (e.g., through video diaries),
or did not acknowledge the viewers’ existence (‘‘fly on the wall’’) (˛D.94).
The second section of the content analysis measured the extent to which par-
ticipants reveal certain types of personal information. Forthissection,alistof
information items retrieved from Wacks (1989) was organizedinto10maincat-
egories listed in Table 2. Using a 7-point scale [absent (0), somewhat present (1–
5) and very much present (6)], each scene was coded in terms of the presence
of each type of personal information. Because neither of the coders found any
incidence of these types of information revealed in the 261 units used for reliability
calculations, reliability was not calculated for information about financial status,
drug use, religious beliefs and political beliefs.Thereliabilitiesoftheremaining
six personal information variables were all above ˛of .8. For later analyses, these
personal information variables were recoded as absent (0) and present (1–6 D1).
Then, for each reality program, an overall count of personal information per scene
was computed by taking an average of the content analyzed scenes. Because a scene
can contain more than one piece of information, the resultingcountperscenecan
exceed one.
The third section of the content analysis instrument focusedontheincidence
of expression of emotions, gossip, sexual behavior (intercourse, casual touching/
kissing, and intimate touching/kissing) and nudity. Codersratedeachsceneforthe
presence (1) or absence (0) of each these content features. Both negative (e.g.,
sadness, ˛D.87) and non-negative (e.g., happiness, excitement, ˛D.78) emotions
were above the minimum required reliability of ˛D.70 (Lombard, Synder-Duch,
&Bracken,2002).Bothnegative(˛D.79) and positive (˛D.81), talk about
others in their absence (gossip), were above the required levels of reliability. In
line with the conceptualization of gossip provided above, positive and negative talk
about others in their absence were summed together to form a gossip variable.
Reliability was not calculated for sexual intercourse because the coded scenes
contained no variation; the reliability for casual touching/kissing (˛D.66) was
not sufficient. Finally, full (˛D.88) and partial (˛D.80) nudity had desirable
levels of reliability. Due to a relatively low level of occurrence of full nudity,
for later analyses, these two variables were combined to formapartial/fullnudity
variable.
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200 Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009
Weighting Exposure by Content Features
In order to test hypotheses regarding the content features that contribute to the
voyeuristic appeal of reality programs, the correlations between the unweighted
score of exposure to reality programming and voyeurism were contrasted with the
correlations between voyeurism and exposure scores weighted by each content
feature. For each respondent, the exposure score weighted byacontentfeature(e.g.,
gossip) was obtained by multiplying the percent of scenes containing that content
feature in a given program (e.g., Amazing Race)bytherespondentsexposurescore
to that program (for personal information, the weighting wasdoneusingacountof
personal information per scene). After computing the weighted exposure scores, the
correlations between voyeurism and unweighted exposure scores, and voyeurism
and weighted exposure scores were contrasted using Steiger’s Zprocedure. This
procedure, although not as widely used as other procedures like Hotelling’s T
(Hotelling, 1940), was preferred because it was a more conservative test with
lower Type 1 error (Meng, Rosenthal & Rubin, 1992; Steiger, 2004). In the resulting
contrasts, a higher correlation between voyeurism and an exposure score weighted
by a content feature than between voyeurism and the unweighted exposure score
would confirm that specific content feature’s contributiontovoyeuristicappealof
arealityprogram.
Results
Part 1: Reality Television Consumption and Voyeurism
As predicted by the first hypothesis, voyeurism was positively related to reality
television exposure (rD.24, p<.001). Exposure to reality programs was also
positively related to social comparison (rD.14, p<.01), self-monitoring (rD.20,
p<.001), and hours of television viewing (rD.26, p<.001). Partial correlations
run to address the first research question revealed that the relationship between
voyeurism and exposure to reality programs remained significant after controlling
for social comparison, self-monitoring, and hours of television viewing (rD.21,
p<.001).
Because Hypotheses 2 to 8 pertain to reality television content features that may
contribute to their voyeuristic appeal, the remainder of theresultssectionwillfirst
summarize the results of the content analysis (Part 2), and provide the Results of the
correlation contrasts used for hypotheses tests (Part 3).
Part 2: Content Features
For the 2151 scenes analyzed, the average scene duration was 14.60 seconds.
The Amazing Race had the shortest average scene duration (7 seconds), and Cops
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Baruh/PUBLICIZED INTIMACIES ON REALITY TELEVISION 201
had the longest (32 seconds). In terms of the ‘‘spatial privacy’’ of the interactions,
the analysis distinguished between scenes taking place in public spaces, limited
public spaces, and private/semi-private spaces. On average, 28% of the scenes
were classified as taking place in typically less accessibleprivateorsemi-private
settings. Nanny 911 (52%) and Big Brother (49%) can be singled out as programs
taking place primarily within private/semi-private spaces. On the other hand, Cops
stood out as the only show that was predominantly taking placeinpublicspaces
(68%) (Table 3). On average, 60% of the scenes analyzed adopted a ‘‘fly on the
wall’’ perspective within which television viewers are treated as invisible observers.
The Amazing Race (91%) and Cops (88%) stood out as programs that primarily
adopted this style.
The last column of Table 3 displays the count of personal information per scene.
The average number of items of personal information per scenewas.42(SD D
.29). Not reported on the table, the content analysis also showed that the most
frequently revealed type of information was information regarding occupation: On
average 23% of the scenes contained information about occupation (SD D23%).
However, this percentage is inflated because in shows like Cops,almostevery
scene contains information about occupation (97%). Other than information about
occupational status, information about the sexual lives of the participants (average D
6%) and information about participants’ physical health (average D5%) were the
most frequently appearing types of information.
Table 4 summarizes the content analysis results regarding the presence of display
of negative emotions, non-negative (positive and neutral) emotions, gossip (positive
and negative combined), casual touching/kissing, intimatetouching/kissing,and
partial/full nudity. No occurrence of sexual intercourse was observed.
On average, 25% of the scenes contained negative emotions andasignificantly
higher percentage of the scenes (40%) contained non-negative emotions (p<.05).
Nanny 911 had the highest percent of negative emotions (42%), followedbyCops
(35%) and Big Brother (33%). On average, only 8% of the scenes contained con-
versations that could be classified as gossip with Cops (32%) and Big Brother (28%)
standing out as the two programs with the highest occurrence of gossip. Less than
5% of the scenes contained casual touching/kissing, intimate touching/kissing, or
partial/full nudity, with Big Brother (16%) and Average Joe (15%) having the highest
occurrence of partial/full nudity.
Having briefly summarized the results of the content analysis of the reality pro-
grams, Part 3 will focus on hypotheses tests regarding which content features ana-
lyzed contribute to the voyeuristic appeal of reality programs.
Part 3: Voyeuristic Appeal of Content Features
Table 5 lists the correlations between voyeurism, weighted exposure scores and
unweighted exposure scores, required to contrast weighted and unweighted expo-
sure scores’ relationship with voyeurism. The first column provides the correlations
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Table 3
Scene Characteristics, Spatial and Informational Privacy
Scene
Length
(seconds)
Percent of
Scenes
using
‘‘Fly on
the Wall’’
Percent of
Scenes
in Public
Spaces
Percent of
Scenes in
Limited
Public
Spaces
Percent of
Scenes in
Private
Semi-Private
Spaces
Personal
Information
Count per
Scene
Amazing Race 7 91% 28% 30% 33% .14
America’s Most Wanted 14 27% 7% 10% 10% .63
America’s Next Top Model 10 65% 11% 20% 35% .35
Average Joe 11 48% 14% 13% 22% .69
Beauty and the Geek 12 55% 20% 6% 30% .47
Big Brother 14 50% 0% 2% 49% .29
Biggest Loser 13 70% 13% 35% 23% .20
Cops 32 88% 68% 0% 19% 1.18
Dancing with the Stars 21 62% 0% 47% 15% .20
Extreme Makeover: H.E. 11 44% 12% 9% 29% .28
Nanny 911 954%2%1%52% .34
Survivor 16 60% 21% 25% 16% .15
The Apprentice 14 72% 4% 35% 33% .39
Three Wishes 11 41% 2% 19% 20% .49
Tommy Lee Goes to Col. 24 73% 11% 35% 28% .67
Mean 14.60 60% 14% 19% 28% .42
SD 6.50 17% 17% 15% 12% .29
202
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Table 4
Private/Exclusive Behavior (Percent of Scenes)
Negative
Emotions
Non-negative
Emotions Gossip
Casual
Touching-
Kissing
Intimate
Touching-
Kissing
Partial/Full
Nudity
Amazing Race 12% 51% 6% 0% 0% 0%
America’s Most Wanted 23% 7% 0% 2% 0% 0%
America’s Next Top Model 24% 39% 3% 3% 0% 12%
Average Joe 19% 40% 7% 12% 5% 15%
Beauty and the Geek 32% 46% 7% 7% 7% 1%
Big Brother 33% 41% 28% 6% 6% 16%
Biggest Loser 31% 54% 0% 8% 1% 6%
Cops 35% 7% 32% 0% 0% 4%
Dancing with the Stars 20% 51% 0% 1% 0% 4%
Extreme Makeover: H.E. 7% 63% 0% 5% 0% 0%
Nanny 911 42% 27% 6% 3% 0% 0%
Survivor 26% 46% 16% 0% 0% 6%
The Apprentice 27% 32% 13% 0% 0% 1%
Three Wishes 18% 51% 1% 0% 0% 0%
Tommy Lee Goes to College 21% 40% 5% 3% 0% 0%
Mean 25% 39.5% 8% 3% 1% 4%
SD 9% 15.83% 10% 3% 2% 6%
203
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204 Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009
Table 5
Unweighted and Weighted Correlations
Unweighted
Exposure Score Voyeurism
Unweighted exposure score 1 .24
Weighted exposure score
%Scenesw/viewersnotprimaryrecipients .99 .26
%Scenesinprivate/semiprivatespaces .99 .25
%Scenesinpublicspace .86 .24
%Scenesinlimitedpublicspace .87 .19
Count of personal information per scene .93 .24
%scenewithgossip .89 .28
%Sceneswithnegativeemotions .99 .25
%Sceneswithnon-negativeemotions .97 .23
%Scenescontainingcasualkiss/touch .91 .23
%Scenescontainingintimatekiss/touch .75 .25
%Scenescontainingnudity .90 .28
between the unweighted exposure score and the weighted reality television viewing
measures, varying between rD.75 and rD.99 (p<.001, 2-tailed). The second
column lists the correlations between voyeurism and measures of exposure, varying
between rD.19 and rD.28 (p<.001, 2-tailed).
Contrasts between weighted and unweighted exposure measures’ relationship
with voyeurism are presented in Table 6. In line with the prediction of the second
hypothesis that the adoption of a ‘‘fly on the wall’’ perspective would contribute
to the voyeuristic appeal of reality programs, the correlation between the exposure
score weighted by percentage of scenes adopting a ‘‘fly on thewall’perspectiveand
voyeurism was significantly stronger than the correlation between the unweighted
exposure score and voyeurism (difference D.017, p<.001).
The third hypothesis predicted that reality programs portraying private spaces
more frequently would have a higher voyeuristic appeal. Thishypothesiswasalso
supported by the correlation contrasts between weighted andunweightedcorre-
lations. First, the correlation between voyeurism and the exposure weighted by
percentage of scenes taking place in private/semi-private spaces was significantly
stronger than the correlation between the unweighted exposure score and voyeurism
(difference D.015, p<.05). Second, neither the scenes taking place in public space,
nor the scenes taking place in limited public space contributed to the voyeuristic
appeal of reality programs. The correlation between voyeurism and the exposure
score weighted by scenes taking place in limited public spacewasweakerthan
the correlation between unweighted exposure and voyeurism (difference D!.045,
p<.05).
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Baruh/PUBLICIZED INTIMACIES ON REALITY TELEVISION 205
Table 6
Weighted vs. Unweighted Measures for Relationship with Voyeurism
Exposure Weighted by :::
Difference
(Weighted-
Unweighted)
Steiger’s
Z
%Scenescontainingflyonthewallperspective .017 3.47***
%Scenesinprivate/semiprivatespaces .015 2.10*
%Scenesinpublicspace !.003 !.14
%Scenesinlimitedpublicspace !.045 !2.19*
Count of personal information per scene .001 .10
%Scenecontaininggossip .037 2.01*
%Scenescontainingnegativeemotions .009 .96
%Scenescontainingnon-negativeemotions !.012 !1.22
%Scenescontainingcasualkissing/touching !.010 !.57
%Scenescontainingintimatekissing/touching .009 .31
%Scenescontainingpartial/fullnudity .044 2.41*
*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001 (2-tailed).
The fourth hypothesis predicting that disclosure of personal information would
add to the voyeuristic appeal of reality programs was not supported: A contrast
between the unweighted reality programming exposure score and the exposure
score weighted by the count of personal information per sceneexhibitednosignif-
icant differences in terms of their correlations with voyeurism. On the other hand,
the prediction of Hypothesis 5 that the occurrence of scenes containing gossip
would add to the voyeuristic appeal of reality programs was supported by the
contrasts (difference D.037, p<.05). Neither Hypothesis 6, predicting that the
presence of displays of emotions would add to the voyeuristicappealofreality
programs, nor Hypothesis 7, predicting that the presence of sexual behavior would
add to the voyeuristic appeal of reality programs, was supported by the correlation
contrasts. Finally, correlation contrasts between the exposure score weighted by
percentage of scenes containing nudity and the unweighted exposure, supported
the final hypothesis that presence of nudity contributes to the voyeuristic appeal of
reality programs (difference D.044, p<.05).
Acompositeweightingofexposuretorealityprogramswascreated using four
content features that correlation contrasts have shown to contribute to reality pro-
grams’ voyeuristic appeal: the percentage of scenes using ‘‘fly on the wall,’’ the
percentage of scenes in semi-private or private settings, the percentage of scenes
containing gossip and the percent of scenes containing nudity.
Table 7 summarizes a regression that treats this composite weighted exposure
score as the dependent variable. Accordingly, younger individuals, females and
those who watch more television were more likely to watch reality television. Also,
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206 Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009
Table 7
OLS Regression Predicting Weighted Exposure to Reality TV
B(ˇ)
Constant 172.88
Age !2,985 !.20***
Education !7,092 !.07
Female 67,520 .14**
Race (Nonwhite) !18,239 !.02
Television viewing 16,842 .24***
Voyeurism 4,101 .19***
Social comparison 2,906 .05
Self-monitoring 6,765 .10*
Note: N D542, R2D.21, p<.001, Minimum Tolerance D.79.
*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001.
voyeurism (B D4,101, p<.001) and sensitivity to the expressions of others (B D
6,765, p<.05) were positively related to the composite-weighted exposure to reality
programs.
Discussion
Voyeuristic appeal has often been cited as an explanation fortherecentrise
in the popularity of reality programming. However, little attention has been paid
to investigating programming features that may contribute to the voyeuristic ap-
peal of reality programs. To address this problem, this studyadoptedanintegra-
tive approach by content analyzing reality programs, and then using the content
analysis results in conjunction with a survey to identify thecontentfeaturescon-
tributing to the voyeuristic appeal of reality programs. Rarely utilized previously,
such an integrative approach has the benefit of drawing firstordercorrespondence
between content features and audience response to these features (Neuendorf,
2002).
The components of this dual methodology had some limitations. First, the cross-
sectional data came from an opt-in sample of online participants, and had a 16%
response rate. Another problem pertains to the exposure measure utilized for the
study. The reality programming exposure measure asked the respondents to think
back 6 months to provide estimates of programming consumption, producing poten-
tially unreliable results. In such cases, ordinal measures,suchastheoneemployed
in this survey, asking for estimates of typical consumption frequency tend to provide
relatively reliable results (Potts, Belden & Reese, 2008). The resulting index of
exposure to reality programs was obtained by aggregating these ordinal variables.
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Baruh/PUBLICIZED INTIMACIES ON REALITY TELEVISION 207
This procedure, although frequently utilized for creating programming exposure
indices (e.g., Potts et al., 2008; Segrin & Nabi, 2002), is more suitable for metric
measurements.
In addition, some of the content analysis variables may have overestimated the
presence of certain content features. For example, for the show Cops,information
about occupation (police), and talk about others (while discussing police cases),
were potentially inflated due to the program’s theme. Furthermore, contextual units
longer than 5 minutes could have provided more information tothecoders,increas-
ing reliability. However, the intercoder reliability was generally at desirable levels,
suggesting that the contextual units were sufficient.
Despite these limitations, this study makes several important contributions to
the study of audiences in general and the consumption of reality programming in
particular. Empirical evidence from extant research provides inconsistent results with
respect to the relationship between voyeurism and reality programming consump-
tion. This is partly due to differences in the conceptualization and operationalization
of voyeurism. For example, in a recent article, Papacharissi&Mendelson(2007)
adopted a measure of voyeurism that emphasized sexual gratification that viewers
may derive from consuming reality programs. However, a different conceptualiza-
tion of voyeurism defines it not as a sexual deviance but as a commonly occurring
fascination with access to private details of people’s lives(Calvert,2004;Metzl,
2004). As a potential motivation for watching reality television—a mainstream
form of programming that is not considerably more sexual thanothermainstream
formats—this form of common voyeurism may be more fitting than pathological
voyeurism; and the findings from this study provide the firstdetailedempirical
analysis of this relationship between non-pathological voyeurism and the consump-
tion of the reality television genre. The article also provides important evidence that
voyeurism is independent from other types of social curiosity that may be related
to the consumption of reality television.
Furthermore, starting with a criticism of current research which usually fails to
acknowledge that reality programming is not a coherent genre, the content analysis,
in conjunction with the survey, helps identify several key programming features that
contribute to its appeal for individuals with a higher tendency to engage in non-
pathological voyeurism: Use of a ‘‘fly on the wall’’ perspective, scenes taking place
in private settings, scenes containing gossip, and scenes containing some nudity.
These findings are important not only in terms of their potential to guide future
discussions about reality programming but also in terms of contributing to research
on Uses and Gratifications by establishing a considerably strong link between
content features and psychological motivations to consume aspecifictelevision
program.
In addition to addressing some widely raised questions regarding the relationship
between voyeurism and consumption of reality programs, thisstudyalsoprovides
an invaluable opportunity to test a scale that measures a more‘mundane’formof
voyeurism that is highly prevalent in our daily lives. Although there has been wide
interest in this form of non-pathological voyeurism, littleattentionhasbeenpaid
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208 Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009
to conceptualizing what it entails and how it can be measured.Inthisrespect,by
introducing a voyeurism scale, the findings from this article fill an important gap that
can aid current debates regarding voyeuristic culture (Calvert, 2004; Metzl, 2004).
Clearly, future work will be needed to evaluate the voyeurismscaleintermsofits
validity, and eliminate potential response set bias stemming from the use of a uni-
directional scale. However, the voyeurism scale has the potential to be utilized for
studying not only reality programming consumption but also use of different types of
media and/or formats such as gossip magazines, webcams and social network sites.
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