Despite advocacy groups’ efforts—including a petition with over 60,000 signatures delivered to Amazon-owned MGM Studios via in-person protest—Ring Nation finally premiered across the country on Monday, barely a month after the two companies first announced their take on America’s Funniest Home Videos. Hosted by Wanda Sykes, herself a former top-secret clearance NSA employee tasked with “handling procurement,” the clip show culled from Ring devices’ footage now officially airs throughout the week at various times of day and night on 35 states’ locally syndicated cable channels.
Ring Nation faced immediate criticism from privacy advocates and lawmakers following news of its existence. With a well-documented history of sharing consumers’ data to law enforcement without their knowledge, many critics find the show’s smart home security premise in poor taste at best, and at worst, an unavoidable cash grab. But just how egregious is the new show?
On its glossy surface, Ring Nation is nothing more than yet another montage series propelled by uncompensated audience submissions. Although the show’s strategically marketed name implies a never-ending cavalcade of doorbell cams and home security catches, in reality, the first episode made available to PopSci earlier this week is mostly a stream of quick GoPro and smartphone videos capturing stunts, pranks, and mild-to-moderate injuries to be expected in any clip series. There appear to be only two or three actual submissions courtesy of Ring camera owners, some of whom pop up in quick video chat interviews. Nevertheless, Sykes and co-hosts repeatedly remind viewers of all the fun they can have if they just get on board. “You won’t believe the storytelling you can achieve with a doorbell cam!” Sykes exclaims at one point.
As smart home security tech rises in popularity (Ring sold 1.7 million products last year alone), so does the number of viral doorbell cam clips—many of which garner millions of views on platforms like TikTok and YouTube. Ring Nation piggybacks on this trend, for one primary reason. “[I]n a self-reinforcing cycle, the show will significantly expand the audience for Ring videos, the pool of potential Ring video creators, and then (and most important) the number of Ring cameras out in the wild,” MIT Technology Review explained last month. “And many of these new customers likely won’t think twice about what their new Ring camera is really doing.”
If you’re looking to sneak a peek at the show online, however, you’re out of luck. It currently isn’t available on a streaming service like Amazon Prime. Instead the show reaches a very specific demographic of viewer—one that is statistically older, lower income, and white—via local cable channels. Between Sinclair-owned local news outlets‘ strange scripted monologues about fake news and Ring Nation‘s curated doorstep zaniness, America’s remaining linear TV audiences are now consistently bombarded with possible reasons to buy into security systems. When it comes to which system to buy, Ring system dominates sales, surpassing those of its four closest competitors combined last year.
According to a Pew Research report from 2021, average TV viewership via cable and satellite connections has dropped across the board since last surveyed in 2015. The numbers are generally pretty dramatic—with a 20 to 30 percent drop in every age group except those 65 and older. In that bracket, audiences only decreased 5 points from 86 to 81 percent. That’s still a lot of Americans getting their TV fix from local station options, especially targeting older audiences that are the least likely demographic to turn to technology
It’s also worth noting the same production company behind Ring Nation also produced Live PD, the highly controversial, massively successful surveillance state successor to COPS. Despite a brief cancellation following the George Floyd protests in 2020, Live PD resurrected as the rebranded On Patrol: Live earlier this summer.
But perhaps the most concerning takeaway from Ring Nation‘s premiere episode is the presentation of smart home surveillance as nothing more than an utterly mundane tool to catch pratfalls and cute pets. Ring, like so many other home security companies, says their devices help deter crime and keep owners safer than they would be without them. However, research shows that devices like Ring and other services don’t even keep you safe, and police jurisdictions aren’t even sure of how effective partnerships with Ring are when it comes to preventing and catching crime. Regardless, Ring stores data for a default period of 60 days in the US (and up to 180 days if selected by the user), and thus potentially exposing consumers to potential blackmail, extortion, and stalking. Viewers are reminded of none of this during the show’s runtime.
Instead, they are treated to “a special shoutout to everyone out there who goes the extra mile for their family,” as one of Ring Nation‘s co-hosts extolls after a segment showcasing admirable parents. “We see you,” he added.
Correction 9/29/22: A previous version of this post said “companies like Ring often keep data for an indefinite period of time.” This has been updated to reflect Ring’s posted storage guidelines.
Update 10/03/22: This has been updated to reflect a more recent signature count for the petition delivered to Ring.