Big Brother On Channel 5 - Does It Have A Future?

In just a couple of days' time, Channel 5's first run of Big Brother will come to an end. The doors will close, the lights will switch off, and host Brian Dowling will go back to whatever it is he does when not presenting the show.

In just a couple of days' time, Channel 5's first run of Big Brother will come to an end. The doors will close, the lights will switch off, and host Brian Dowling will go back to whatever it is he does when not presenting the show.

The last housemate to make it down the stairs might be in for a surprise when they find that, actually, very few people care that they've won. Viewing figures have been rather low, hovering around the 1 million mark. The media have expressed a severe lack of interest in the contestants. In fact, most of the comments this year have been about the lack of live streaming and the dismal ratings.

It needn't be this way. The viewers shouldn't need to speculate about whether or not someone called Jay had an incident with a freezer. Big Brother US is a shining example of how live streaming combined with social media does wonders for their viewing figures. If Channel 5 and Endemol truly want to make a success of Big Brother in the UK, they have plenty of options available to them.

As blogger Jazz Merry observed, CH5's Big Brother was part of a new media strategy. Nick Bampton, commercial sales director of Channel 5, said: "Big Brother is a unique fame-building property and in Freederm we have found a likeminded organisation that believes in the value of a broader partnership arrangement." This includes opportunities around Big Brother such as licensing deals and product placement. (From 28 February 2011 TV programmes made for UK audiences can contain product placement, as long as they comply with Ofcom's rules.)

Nick Bampton was pleased with the figures for Celebrity Big Brother. "Lots of people doubted us but our audiences have held up really well throughout the series. [...] we grabbed 22.2% share of 16- to 34-year-olds, that's massive."

However, the viewing figures fell during the main run of the series. The social media experiment proved controversial, with many users blocked and even banned from Facebook after posting on Channel 5's page. Irish and international viewers were excluded from viewing the clips. The Twitter updates were far from exciting, and the promised phone applications didn't live up to expectations. So when told that "Freederm branding will be used on all 'Big Brother' marketing, the 'Big Brother' apps and on-air idents and Freederm will able to run in-store promotions and competitions for tickets. The 'Big Brother' app will be available on all major platforms and will offer users the chance to vote on who should stay in the 'Big Brother' house as well as information and news about the show and its housemates", Freederm might well feel disappointed. After all, the whole point of sponsoring a show is to get your brand out there and viewed in a positive light.

If the social media extras failed to capture the public's imagination, advert breaks and product placement are the way to go. In a one hour highlight show (minus adverts), the space for promotion is limited. Live Feed on TV is 53 minutes long per hour (potentially) and on web stream it is 60 minutes per hour. These minutes are there for filling with placed products and Freederm and others have been denied access to them.

Quite aside from the loss of potential revenue, the ill will generated this series is not to be overlooked. Most housemates, it was discovered, had already been in the media. This is despite the fact that a lot of viewers wish to see "normal" people in the house - people they can relate to. It didn't help when housemates sometimes referred to other housemates as "characters". And with the lack of live streaming, and inconsistencies in the highlight shows, it was easy for viewers to wonder what was really going on.

The show's executive producer Gavin Henderson said the new series needed to adopt current TV trends set out by 'scripted reality' shows such as The Only Way Is Essex. "Big Brother does what it does extremely well but it isn't a TOWIE or a Made In Chelsea... But the humour, the awareness of the manipulation that the viewers have of those shows, as well as their use of music are things we need to note."

Unfortunately, Big Brother viewers do not expect scripted reality, nor do they have an awareness of which aspects of the show are manipulated. Gavin Henderson is correct that Big Brother isn't TOWIE or Made In Chelsea. When housemates like Heaven left the house and told of events that shed a very different light on certain other housemates, and made these statements in the full expectation that the viewers had witnessed these events, viewers were left to wonder what was real, and what they could trust anymore.

Indeed, fans felt that instead of controlling the housemates, who'd signed up for it, the ones controlled by Channel 5 and Endemol were the viewers. Many voted with their remotes and switched off. Others are hopeful that if there is to be a 2012 series of regular Big Brother, it will once more be the show they knew and loved. Perhaps confidence will be restored in January, during the next Celebrity Big Brother.

For that to happen, Endemol will have to survive its alleged financial difficulties. If reports about their debts are correct, might this have led to the company delivering a subpar product? Were they so afraid of controversy that they decided to cut the live streaming and create stories rather than offer a true reflection of life in the Big Brother house? The viewer can only speculate.

In the meanwhile, those who are still hanging in there to see who emerges as the winner of this series are hopeful that their views will be taken into consideration. If not, Channel 5 might well see a further drop in ratings in subsequent series.

If you can't trust a product, why would you buy it?


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