Since “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” premiered in 2007, the reality show has been a ratings-generating, attention-grabbing stalwart for NBCUniversal’s E! network. That all ends next year when the show concludes its run on the channel after what will be its 20th season.
Neither the Kardashian-Jenner clan nor the Comcast-owned network said why they were parting ways. A statement Kim Kardashian West posted on Instagram two weeks ago merely thanked E! “for being our partner.”
The Kardashian-Jenner empire provided fodder for what ultimately will be 14 years of family drama, not to mention various spinoffs from the flagship show. But its legacy is more involved than that.
On a macro level, the show’s exit is interesting because of what it says about the changing businesses of TV and celebrity that the show embodies. Audiences, especially younger viewers, are bailing on linear cable TV for streaming services, as well as other entertainment options, including Fortnite and TikTok.
And the Kardashians and Jenners are going where their audience already spends most of its time — to social media. With the quick adoption of rapidly proliferating social apps, they don’t need a legacy TV network to reach fans (and haters).
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that has kept Americans confined to their living rooms like never before, 2020 is expected to be a record year for the number of people who ditch pay-TV, said Ross Benes, an e-marketing analyst.
The decline in live TV ratings played out during the run of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” Its ratings peaked with the Season 4 finale in February 2010, which had 4.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen numbers. The most recent episode had just 810,000 total viewers.
But the Kardashians have their own ways of taking advantage of their massive online followings and staying fresh with the Gen Z crowd flooding new apps. Unlike traditional paid TV, platforms such as YouTube and TikTok track the videos its users watch and make recommendations, which could help the Kardashians get in front of younger eyeballs.
A step ahead
Well before the rise of TikTok, the Kardashians demonstrated an ability to stay ahead of their celebrity rivals when it came to courting followers digitally with their own apps, social accounts and even a mobile video game (“Kim Kardashian: Hollywood”). Brand influencer work on social media is an obvious way for them to continue to flex their power.
“Their relevance is not on TV, their relevance is on Snapchat and social media,” said Eunice Shin, a partner at brand and business consultancy Prophet. “They are absolute brand marketers, and that’s what they exist for. They don’t necessarily need television to do that.”
No one will be surprised if the Kardashians end up with a blockbuster producing deal with Netflix or one of the many companies chasing its subscriber counts and stock market valuation.
Whatever they do next, there’s no doubt they will remain “a headline-grabbing, attention-grabbing, ratings-grabbing machine,” said Kyle Hjelmeseth, president of G&B Digital Management. “Whatever happens next is going to be surprising only to those who haven’t been watching what influencers have been doing.”