TBI Weekly: What does TikTok’s first reality show mean for TV?

ELF Cosmetics might not be on the tip of your tongue when it comes to discussing the latest developments in TV land, but perhaps it should be.

There again, TikTok might not be seen as the place to break a new format, but perhaps it also should be.

Earlier this week, the social media darling/danger – depending on your opinion – launched its first ever reality show, backed by the Oakland, California-based cosmetics brand. The company has previously made online waves with its own campaigns but the production of Eyes Lips Famous (ELF) marks something of a sea change.

The format for ELF is straightforward enough: the new show, which will run for a month from late September, first requires budding beauty enthusiasts to use the service to upload a video of themselves explaining why they should be picked as a finalist.

From there, the series will follow the contestants attending what TikTok has described as a “beauty camp”, hosted by three influencers – Avani Gregg, Madi Monroe and Seth O’Brien, if you’re interested. They will provide feedback, advice and pro tips on beauty.

Each contestant spends the month of the series honing their skills online and, along with TikTok’s millions of users, participating in weekly challenges, with the show’s winners taking home a sponsorship deal and a $5,000 contract to represent the cosmetics brand.

Eyebrow raiser

Such a show will of course raise eyebrows, perhaps literally, and probably from some on the more traditional side of the content business. Certainly, there was plenty of hot air in the press release that accompanied news of the show, which discussed “empowering people to go after their dreams” and calling for contestants to “express their truest selves”.

But Katie Puris, TikTok’s MD of global business marketing, provides a clear rationale that explains not just why this show will likely pay off handsomely for both parties but why it is likely to be the shape of things to come.

“TikTok as a platform is designed to inspire, and as an early innovator, ELF set the bar high for what it means to create truly authentic and unique content the TikTok community loves. We’ve seen their creativity shine in a number of campaigns where they tap into the participatory nature of our platform to create a unique experience for our users,” she said.

“With authentic, creative content that could only be found on TikTok, ELF continues to listen to the TikTok community and give their audience new ways to engage with their brand.”

TikTok’s summer of 2020

The key words seem to be ‘participatory’ and ‘engage – and for TikTok, it is those elements that have helped 2020 become something of an eventful summer to date.

So far, it has hired the services of former Disney+ chief Kevin Mayer, been valued at eye-watering sums by investors, been castigated by the US president, launched a $200m content fund and reportedly become a target for one of the world’s largest software companies. And it’s only mid-August.

All that came after it surged to prominence around the world as lockdowns became a global phenomenon. In the midst of it all, the company targeted viewers who weren’t immediately intrigued online by spending cash on TV advertisements featuring talent such as pop group Little Mix and The F Word’s Gordon Ramsay. Its celeb creators have since been providing various genre-based videos exploring cooking to well-being – something akin to original content, perhaps.

Broadcasters were no doubt happy to take TikTok’s cash during “one of the most challenging times in the history” of commercial television, as Carolyn McCall, CEO at the UK’s ITV, put it, but the confluence of brands seeking impact and social media’s engagement factor looks sure to heap further pressure on finances in the future.

TikTok provides a platform for brands like few other mediums can. And at a time when companies are looking to get as much bang for their buck as is humanly possible, ELF looks likely to be the shape of things to come.

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