How Hulu’s ‘The Kardashians’ fits into the ‘survival of the fittest’ media landscape

How Hulu’s ‘The Kardashians’ fits into the ‘survival of the fittest’ media landscape

Roll out the red carpet. “The Kardashians” is about to arrive.

The new series, which will air on Hulu (DIS), is set to make its long-awaited debut on Thursday. Disney first unveiled its exclusive, multi-year deal with the family in December 2020.

All five sisters — Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie — along with mother Kris, will return to the small screen, in addition to a few new faces like Kourtney’s fiancé (and sort of husband) Travis Barker.

“We’ve had so much time off, we’ve kind of gone into our own worlds,” Kim says in the viral trailer. “I’m excited for this new chapter. I’ve been in the game long enough to know that you just have to be yourself.”

If you want to keep up with the Kardashians you don’t do it on cable…Robert Thompson, Syracuse University professor of TV and pop culture

The upcoming debut comes after the end of E!’s long-running reality series, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” which aired its last episode in June 2021 after 14 years and 20 headline-inducing seasons.

Various reports have said the cast wanted a salary increase (which led to the decision to leave E!).

According to Variety, the family will earn a whopping 9-figure salary at Hulu. The last deal that E! inked was for a reported $100 million back in 2017.

Hulu’s ‘The Kardashians’ to debut on April 14

The famous family has also doubled down on remaining a relevant force in today’s media landscape.

Currently, each of the ‘KarJenner’ sisters have amassed well over 100 million followers on Instagram (FB) alone — providing fans continuous, up-to-the-minute updates, versus the much lengthier process of waiting week-by-week for new episodes to air on E!

In fact, that long lead-time is part of what made the Hulu deal so attractive, as streaming often allows for a tighter turnaround.

“We wanted it to be as current as possible,” Kim told Variety. “We hated how long we had to wait. That was like the death of us, because once we got over something, we had to rehash it all over again.”

“KUWTK” ratings also began to decline as fans embraced social media and stayed updated on the drama in real time. Ratings peaked at 4.8 million during the Season 4 finale in February 2010, according to Nielsen. The final seasons didn’t even come close.

“If you want to keep up with the Kardashians you don’t do it on cable,” Robert Thompson, Syracuse University professor of TV and pop culture, told Yahoo Finance.

“Streaming is now the test kitchen for all the exciting new programming,” he continued.

Anthony Palomba, professor of business administration at UVA’s Darden School of Business, agreed, adding, “The Kardashians are held in such high esteem. How do you continue to be on the highest pedestal? They arguably have nowhere to go.”

Yet, Hulu provides a mutually beneficial arrangement: the family gets to stay current and reachable on a notable streaming service, while Hulu gets — not only one of the biggest brands in Hollywood — but a highly sought-after reality TV program.

“In the streaming wars, people are looking for live content,” Palomba said, referencing the bifurcation happening in cable television as networks lean on live sports and news programs.

“Why? Because people will view them when they air. It’s very unlikely that people are going to delay viewing a TV news program, or a sports program…reality television is similar due to its perishability,” the professor continued.

He added, “Since these women are living in real time, you have to watch in due time or you will fall behind…it demands time appointment viewing.”

Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala - Met Gala - Camp: Notes on Fashion- Arrivals - New York City, U.S. – May 6, 2019 - Corey Gamble, Kris Jenner, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala – Met Gala – Camp: Notes on Fashion- Arrivals – New York City, U.S. – May 6, 2019 – Corey Gamble, Kris Jenner, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Disney recently revealed that ABC’s long-running reality competition series “Dancing with the Stars” will move to Disney+ after 15 years — another example of streamers’ goal to further connect with subscribers, and pull more live content onto platforms.

Additionally, Netflix (NFLX) has seen major successes with its own reality series, from “The Circle” and “Selling Sunset” to the more recent “Love is Blind” and “The Ultimatum.”

“We’re in a period of survival of the fittest,” Palomba revealed. “We’re seeing that with the streaming wars in which premium content, especially content that can be readily identified with the parent streaming company, is huge.”

Hulu, most known for the critically acclaimed “The Handsmaid’s Tale,” hasn’t had as much prominent, franchise content compared to its competitors.

“This is such a great opportunity for Hulu to segment itself as part of the pop culture zeitgeist,” the UVA professor said, explaining that, at least at this point in the streaming wars, it’s more about individual shows than the overall service.

“There’s just so much going on in the marketplace, so people have to feel as though they have to subscribe to something,” Palomba said, emphasizing that perishable content not only forces consumers to constantly engage, but also provides a steady flow of subscriber data that can be utilized over time.

Overall, “The Kardashians are demonstrating very quickly that they are continuing to influence the cultural zeitgeist to a level that most people can’t conceive or perceive,” Palomba stated, referencing the various billion-dollar brands and development deals the family has created over time, in addition to their reality TV dominance.

Demise of Peak TV?

“Keeping Up with the Kardashians” premiered in 2007 — a poignant time in peak TV history.

It was the year The CW’s “Gossip Girl” and AMC’s “Mad Men” made their grand debuts, while “The Sopranos” and “The O.C” aired their final episodes.

At the time, Disney’s “High School Musical 2” became the most-watched made-for-cable movie in history with over 17 million viewers, while 7.4 million people tuned in to watch the now-cancelled Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show on CBS.

For an extra dose of nostalgia, it was also the year that reality start (and the future U.S. president) Donald Trump went head-to-head with Vince McMahon on WWE’s “The Battle of the Billionaires” (spoiler alert: Trump won.)

Cable TV was once a cherished form of at-home entertainment — and “Keeping up with the Kardashians” was one of many programs that helped make broadcast networks exciting.

But fast forward a decade and a half later, the media landscape is much different — and consumers have a lot more choices to juggle with streaming now at the forefront.

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, the share of U.S. adults who say they watch television via cable or satellite has plunged from 76% in 2015, to 56% in 2021.

All of which suggests the Kardashians don’t need E! to be successful. They just need to meet fans where they are — which these days is mostly on social media and streaming services — and networks are beginning to grapple with the same reality.

In addition to the end of “Keeping up the Kardashians” and the removal of “Dancing with the Stars,” cable will soon face another blow with the conclusion of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

DeGeneres announced the end of her nearly two-decade daytime talk show last year. The final episode is set for May 26, 2022.

“These shows ending are significant because they are different kinds of programming that have been around for a long time in various ways and various degrees,” University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Professor Elana Levine previously told Yahoo Finance.

SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 07: 2021 PEOPLE'S CHOICE AWARDS -- Pictured: Ellen DeGeneres accepts The Daytime Talk Show of 2021 award for ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ on stage during the 2021 People's Choice Awards held at Barker Hangar

SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 07: 2021 PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARDS — Pictured: Ellen DeGeneres accepts The Daytime Talk Show of 2021 award for ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ on stage during the 2021 People’s Choice Awards held at Barker Hangar

“But in terms of the pure amount and quantity of television, I’m not so sure we’re going down. If anything, I think we’re expanding as more and more streaming platforms come to pass,” she added.

Levine contends that although quantity has not diminished, there has been “a shift” in programming, particularly around traditional cable television.

“We’ve seen some shifts away from traditional broadcast TV and cable TV the last 5 years or so as streaming becomes more prominent,” Levine explained. She added that the shift has given greater access to streamers.

“As of now there is still an audience for conventional kinds of cable but more and more people are accessing programming in other ways. That’s what seems to be changing most dramatically,” she said.

Palomba added he’s not so sure what else cable can do to rebound or combat the shift in consumer attention, suggesting that certain offerings may have to reassess their future within the space.

“Some of these cables channels may really have to consider whether or not they want to be bought to add value to something else, like joining a streaming service as part of a library,” he suggested.

“They’re smaller fish — and it seems like all the small fish are being eaten up.”

Alexandra is a Senior Entertainment and Food Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193

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