The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Open casting begins for Apple’s ‘Planet of the Apps’ reality show

The Apple logo displayed on a screen at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference presentation on June 13 in San Francisco. (Gabrielle Lurie/AFP/Getty Images)

Budding entrepreneurs have "Shark Tank," cooks have "Top Chef," and aspiring filmmakers have "Project Greenlight." Soon, wannabe app developers will have their own competitive reality TV series.

Apple announced an open casting call earlier this week for the TV show that the company announced it was working on earlier this year. The unscripted reality show, called "Planet of the Apps," is set to start filming later this year and is the first original TV series for the iPhone maker. Details such as the number of contestants or air date are still unknown at this time, but the show will feature up-and-coming apps competing for funding from VC investors.

Attached to the project are big-name television producers Ben Silverman and Howard T. Owens, as well as music artist “Over 2 million apps are available on the App Store, with new apps published every day,” said Silverman and Owens in a news release published on tech news site 9to5mac. “Planet of the Apps will give app creators the chance to break through and share their ideas with the world."

Show producers are calling for potential contestants to submit an application video no later than Aug. 26. Applicants also must agree to have their app functional on iOS, macOS, tvOS, or watchOS by late October. If accepted onto the show, developers will receive guidance from tech experts, potential funding from VCs of up to $10 million and promotion in Apple's iOS store.

"Planet of the Apps" is a new addition to a growing trend within the reality television world — entrepreneurship television. Coming off the success of "Shark Tank," audiences have shown an appetite for business-themed competitive reality TV.

"These shows seem to tap into and convey the broader message that anyone can succeed, despite the economy, etc. — it's the American Dream," said Laurie Ouellette, a media and cultural studies professor at the University of Minnesota who specializes in reality television. "Shark Tank" grew in ratings during the economic recession, she said.

But Ouellette is not convinced that reality television is always a great business choice for wannabe entrepreneurs. "Much like a free internship, these shows rely on the unpaid creative labor of 'real people' and the products are proprietary," she said, adding that these shows are typically vehicles for integrated branding or extended infomercials for existing business, such as Apple promoting its iOS store and hardware for "Planet of the Apps." But, she says, the majority of contestants don't necessarily benefit in the long term.

The truth of the benefits of a reality TV stint can be difficult to determine. Producers of the show "Shark Tank" won't disclose the overall success rate of the Sharks' investments, though Mark Cuban has said that around 50 of his 71 investments are currently in growth. Other reports paint a more grim portrait. Shark Tank Podcast interviewed more than 70 winning contestants and reported that roughly two-thirds of them never get inked into contract once the cameras turn off. Reports have also shown that the failing restaurants featured on fixer-upper show "Kitchen Nightmares" have a 60 percent closure rate even after an overhaul from its host, chef Gordon Ramsay.

But the value of exposure from a popular television show can be a huge boon to any reality TV contestant looking to promote their brand or business. Some businesses that go on "Shark Tank" report that they had no intention of signing a deal and went on the show primarily for the publicity alone. And the show "Bar Rescue," which helps turn around troubled bars, has a solid track record of 66 percent of its 107 featured bars still open, according to blog Bar Rescue Updates.

Ouellette, who has closely followed a  breadth of reality shows and their stars, says she believes its positive impacts are limited. "In my 15 years of studying reality TV, I've found that only a few participants are able to turn their exposure on reality television into a sustainable career," she said.