Last month, I found myself yell-whispering at my iPad. I had flipped on HGTV and stumbled upon an episode of House Hunters during a flight to Ohio. The house hunting couple decided to move to Costa Rica because the husband saw a YouTube video about sloths. So naturally, he wanted to have a sloth as a neighbor along with an ocean view as they searched the market for their budget-friendly dream home.
That's right, the husband's main requirement for their new home was a room with a view of a sloth. It was completely ridiculous, and I disagreed with every demand the couple made. Still, I couldn't turn it off until I knew what happened. We were hate-watching House Hunters, and we're far from alone.
In August, HGTV ranked third in prime time viewership and fourth in daytime viewership among basic cable channels, according to AdWeek. If you weren't tuning into Fox News or MSNBC, there was a good chance you were watching HGTV. And with specials, spinoffs, and thousands of episodes, House Hunters is likely on. The franchise started slowly with 26 episodes in 1999, and since 2012, more than 400 episodes have aired on average each year.
"Viewers feel the emotional connection. It's like swiping through friends' social media accounts; You see the glossy version of searching for a home and think, it looks so fun!"
Much of the show's appeal is escapist. About a third of respondents who watch House Hunters says it gives them an escape, according to a recent custom poll from Branded Research. It's not surprising then that House Hunters took off during the same time the housing market collapsed. Watching an on-screen couple navigate the real estate market brought a new voyeuristic element.
"House Hunters is mellow out brain coma juice with a great TV formula," says Lizzy Conroy, Realtor and Senior Vice President with HBC Group Keller Williams Realty. "Viewers feel the emotional connection. It's like swiping through friends' social media accounts; You see the glossy version of searching for a home and think, it looks so fun!"
Thanks to its continued success, HGTV has a pile of eager homebuyers ready to film their experiences. As a result, the network can be selective, choosing the most entertaining and outrageous candidates for future episodes. Dreaming of granite countertops isn't good enough, but add in a love of sloths and an international move, like the recent episode I watched, and you might have a shot.
The community of complaints brings viewers from around the world together with the common enemy of foolish homebuyers.
The strongest emotional indicator that a drama or reality TV show's viewership will increase for the next episode is expressions of "hate" by viewers, according to a study by data-analytics startup Canvs. The company discovered the hate component after comparing Nielsen ratings with Twitter comments associated with the shows. Twitter is filled with people lambasting House Hunters, pointing out flaws and faults in the people, demands, agents, final house choice, and then some. The community of complaints brings viewers from around the world together with the common enemy of foolish homebuyers.
While not all House Hunters viewers hate-watch the series, those who do find a treasure trove in each couple's real estate journey. "The most memorable episodes are when a couple has totally different visions of what they want in a house," says Julie Bane, a comedian and longtime House Hunters viewer. "And I like seeing who has to budge and at what cost (or what they want to get in return)."
And with hundreds of episodes produced every year, this guilty pleasure will be here for many more marathons and tweets to come.