With Celebrity Big Brother out of the way, and a new series of regular Big Brother about to start, what can the viewer expect from Channel 5's take on the worldwide phenomenon?
According to spinoff show Bit on the Side, 14 housemates will enter the house on Friday. There will be seven men and seven women, with an age range of 18 - 30. At first glance, there don't appear to be any contestants from Scotland, Wales or Ireland. There will also be some "cosmetic changes" made to the house.
There won't be any live feed. Channel 5 is convinced that prioritising social media is the way to get people involved in the show, despite the fact that negative comments are quickly removed from the dedicated Facebook page, with members complaining they've been blocked and even banned from Facebook altogether as a result of posting polite criticism or requests for live streaming. Viewing figures will tell if Channel 5 is correct.
Celebrity Big Brother has been a ratings success for the channel. With an average of 2.6 million viewers, and a 12.1% share of all TV viewers in its timeslot, Richard Desmond will no doubt be pleased. The show has done well in attracting the desired 16- to 34-year-old key demographic, with 1.8 million at its peak and 481,000 at its lowest.
There are questions whether or not these figures can be sustained. Celebrity Big Brother has the benefit of attracting the fans of the housemates. The audience feels they already know the celebrities, at least to a certain extent, and if not they'll have heard of some of them. Though impressions might change in favour or against a housemate, that recognition is important. A Jedward fan, for example, will have tuned in to see the boys and watch their antics throughout the weeks, because that's how being a fan works.
The new batch of housemates won't have this appeal. They'll have the backing of family and friends and acquaintances, but the general public has never heard of them. Without live streaming, it will be difficult to get to know them. Over three weeks of Celebrity Big Brother, less than a day's worth of footage has been released. That's compared to the 500+ hours which would otherwise have been on offer. Presumably, that's why Channel 5 and Endemol have opted for nametags.
There are not so subtle hints that the producers have decided to emulate The Only Way Is Essex, and with TOWIE's Bafta success this is, perhaps, understandable. Except that Big Brother isn't TOWIE, and it shouldn't try to be. Jeff Ford may think that the show is no longer a social experiment, that it has evolved into an entertainment show, but the social experiment aspect does still appeal to its loyal viewers.
Quite a number of these viewers will be over the age of 30, so it remains to be seen if a younger group of housemates will grab their interest. Celebrity Hijack, which had a young set of housemates, is generally considered to be a pretty decent chapter in Big Brother history. However, like CBB it was only on air for a few weeks and it did have the added bonus of various celebrities popping in to run the house and set tasks.
Older housemates have, in the past, become viewer favourites. Marcus Akin, aka the Irrepressible Dark Horse, definitely wasn't a boring, old wallflower. Many enjoyed watching the likes of Stephanie Beacham, Ivana Trump, and Vinnie Jones. Alex Reid was over the age of 30 when he won CBB in 2010.
Much will depend on the personalities of the new housemates. If Endemol has chosen the right mix, the series might prove interesting. If they realise that viewer interaction and appreciation is about more than the occasional Facebook clip and Twitter update, they might maintain their audience. The regular series is a lengthy one, and without the ability to form an attachment to the housemates, no matter how wonderful they are, viewer numbers are likely to drop.
Even during the three week run of CBB, several viewers admitted that the only reason they were still watching was because of Big Brother's Bit On The Radio, an entertaining, unofficial broadcast which has managed to attract an increasing amount of enthusiastic listeners. The hosts encourage interaction between their audience and themselves, with invites to call in, chatroom engagement, Twitter interaction and more than just a form letter response to emails. Contrasting viewpoints are welcomed and discussed. Someone, somewhere, could learn from that.
Channel 5 could also learn from the way Big Brother is run in the USA. They've made a success of a combination of social media and the live feed. The current run was up 13% in adults 18-49, 24/7 feed subscribers are up 10% from last summer, and of those, 25% also pay for mobile access so they can watch even when they are away from a computer.
Will the regular series succeed against the odds? We'll know in a few weeks' time. If viewing figures are showing a drastic drop, the producers might want to reconsider their strategy. If viewing figures remain relatively stable, critics might have to concede that the show has successfully moved on.
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