You may not have noticed it, but Celebrity Big Brother is back. The papers are quiet, Channel 5 hasn't changed its schedule to accommodate live footage, and there aren't any A-listers in the house, but it's here, and it will be for another couple of weeks. CBB will be followed by the regular series, which is set to last about ten weeks.
If, like me, you gave up on Channel 4's final Big Brother, you may wonder if this new-and-possibly-improved version is worth checking out. My personal answer is that I'm not sure that it is. Big Brother has changed its format to appeal to a new audience, but I haven't got a clue what that audience is supposed to be.
First of all, there are the name tags. The producers seem to think that the viewer has the attention span and memory capacity of a gnat, so they helpfully remind you who is who. It's somewhat embarrassing, considering the housemates are meant to be celebrities.
Secondly, there's the music. Whilst last year the producers played around with some musical montages, they only did so on the odd occasion and it sort of worked. They must have loved the concept because this time around they're treating us to these montages several times each episode. It's completely pointless and it looks extremely tacky.
Most importantly, there is no live feed. None. Zero. Not even during the late hours of the night when the housemates are likely to be sleeping. Last year duvet watch drove me to desperation, but this year I can't even complain about the tweety birds. All we get are roughly 45 minutes of highlights each evening and, for those who are desperate for something, anything more, there are the terrible spinoffs.
I suppose I mustn't forget that this year we're offered the occasional clip on Facebook and the exciting updates from the house provided through Twitter. The clips are only available to those within the UK, much to the disappointment of viewers from Ireland. Some of them are actually excited that Jedward is in Big Brother, and they want to see the twins, but Channel 5 is deaf to their pleas.
The problem with the lack of live feed is that it significantly decreases the buzz surrounding the show. Forums like Digital Spy, with their (in)famous WHATM threads, used to be a source of information and analysis for fans and media alike. Even people who didn't watch the live streaming could hop in there and see if anything interesting had happened or was happening at that very moment. Now the forums are quiet, and the media attention is pretty much zero, because everyone's watching the same highlights. Why run any stories when everyone already knows?
The USA Big Brother has a live feed. Big Brother Albania has a live feed, and they're still one of the poorest countries in Europe. What does this mean? Have our TV channels become too afraid of controversy? Have the Ofcom dialers ruined it for the rest of the viewers? The idea behind the show was that the housemates would be watched 24/7, and in theory they still are, but we can't see them. And that was the appeal.
Live feed viewers used to enjoy the mundane stuff. They liked the casual conversations that never made it to the highlights, because that's how you get to know the housemates. They liked the cooking, the cleaning, the shopping list, "nom-cam", the subtle looks and body language, and the sudden insights into a housemate's personality. They liked the fact that you could watch whenever you wanted, from a few hours at night to ten minutes during the day - it was up to the individual viewer.
Whilst some people might feel they "know" the celebrities, it will be difficult to grow attached to the housemates in the regular series. If the public cannot form their own opinion on the housemates, it is unlikely that they'll feel a strong incentive to vote someone out or keep someone in.
There have been calls for online streaming, with viewers ready and willing to pay a fair amount of money for this service. The Facebook page updates are flooded with people requesting a live feed, though many of the posts get deleted. It seems to me that viewers are willing themselves to love the show. They want to enjoy it, but it's made difficult by the current, overly flashy format and the lack of streaming.
Does it have any redeeming qualities? Well, the housemates actually seem like an interesting bunch. There are plenty of parties, and the Wizard of Oz task looked like it might have been fun. Mohamed Al-Fayed stopped by, and this weekend Marco Pierre White will visit.
Shame we can't watch it. Big Brother is no longer merely controlling the housemates; it's also controlling the viewer. Who goes? Endemol and Channel 5 decide!
Follow Kit Marsters on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JKMarsters