TV’s Saviors Are Here, and They’re Wearing Spandex

First it was the streamers: the seismic arrival of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+ and the rest, offering television’s previously captive viewers the chance to watch seemingly whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Then TikTok joined YouTube in conclusively shattering what was once a unified small-screen audience into a billion individual fragments.

On both sides of the Atlantic, ratings plummeted. Viewers drifted away. Advertising revenue collapsed, and budgets followed. For much of the last decade, it has felt like the traditional television industry has been running up a steeply-inclined treadmill, legs pumping and lungs heaving as the ground moves rapidly beneath its feet.

Now, in Britain, a group of bodybuilders, personal trainers and sundry gym rats have stepped unto the breach. Squeezed into tightfitting Lycra costumes, they have been wielding oversized pugil sticks, running around floating scaffolds and chasing only slightly less musclebound members of the public up walls, in front of a cheering crowd.

In much the same format that first graced American screens in 1989 and British sets in 1992 — “regular” contestants compete in a variety of outlandish challenges against specialist, intimidating athletes each week — “Gladiators” has, in the year 2024, not only provided the BBC with an invigorating hit, but has also offered the latest sign that so-called “linear television” might be more resilient than previously thought.

Even in an instant, on-demand media landscape, the idea that people would sit down to watch something — on a television set, at a scheduled time, with other people in the room — has been regaining some ground.

According to the BBC, 9.8 million people have watched the first episode of the British “Gladiators” reboot, which first aired in January. More striking, though, is that the vast majority of those viewers did not see it at their convenience. Instead, the broadcaster says, 6.6 million — 10 percent of the British population — sat down to follow it as it went out.

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