How To Save Big Brother UK Before It’s Too Late
Big Brother is dead, the ratings are hugely down and it needs saving. Another series of Celebrity Big Brother has been and gone, and even Channel 5 can’t deny it any longer. In this post I’ll outline how to save Big Brother before it’s too late.
OK, let me be a little fairer, Big Brother is dying, and soon to be dead. Let me give this some perspective and take a look at the series average ratings for January’s Celebrity Big Brother and the standard Big Brother. Keep in mind that series on Channel 4 series had to sustain viewer interest for a month longer than Channel 5’s, due to Big Brother lasting approx 90 days on Channel 4, versus 60 days on Channel 5.
The ratings couldn’t be clearer. They show specifically that a huge chunk of viewers switched off after the move to Channel 5. Some could argue that this is because Channel 5 gets less viewers than Channel 4 but this is simply not true. The first launch episode of Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5 achieved 5.7 million viewers, which is similar to the launch ratings for the final two Celebrity Big Brother series on Channel 4. The issue is not people being unable to find the button for Channel 5, the issue is that the show drastically changed, and roughly a million viewers switched off immediately for both Celebrity Big Brother, and the closely followed civilian series.
Sure, a long running show is likely to steadily lose numbers over the years, however the 500,000 viewership drop year on year for this years Celebrity Big Brother is a massive issue and Channel 5 cannot ignore that.
“Big Brother has been replaced by a TOWIE wannabe show that now is used as a factory to try to cross-promote other Viacom shows such as Ex on the Beach or Geordie Shore.”
Another depressing fact is that on Channel 4 the main draw was always the main civilian show, whereas on Channel 5 more people now switch on to the shorter Celebrity version instead. There are key reasons for this, and it has nothing to do with people being more interested in celebrities and everything to do with how the show is presented and edited.
So, what can be done? The answer is a hell of a lot of stuff. A massive chunk of viewers stopped watching the show after it moved to Channel 5 and it’s not hard to see why. The show became a parody of itself, losing parts that made it unique, such as live feed, realism and a sense of a real game show. Instead, Big Brother has been replaced by a TOWIE wannabe show that now is used as a factory to try to cross-promote other Viacom shows such as Ex on the Beach or Geordie Shore. These are shows that receive a fraction of the ratings that Channel 4 achieved with Big Brother. It is this copying of lower rated shows which has led to lower ratings, and this needs to stop.
I don’t think I have ever met a single person who is old enough to remember a series on Channel 4 as it aired on Channel 4 who has said that they prefer the Channel 5 version. I have spoken to young teens who have grown up with structured reality who think it is better, but nobody who experienced both thinks that the changes Channel 5 have made are for the positive. On the contrary, I have spoken to a huge number of people who have told me they stopped watching during the Channel 5 tenure because it feels fake.
First and foremost the biggest change that needs to happen is the return of live feed. In fact most of the changes that the show needs relate to live feed and I will explain why, but first let me explain why live feed is a necessity, and not simply fan service.
Live feed is the essence of Big Brother, it is what makes Big Brother unique and stands apart from every other TV show out there. The whole concept of Big Brother is a social experiment, where viewers can dip in and out at any time to see what is happening. Live feed isn’t for everyone, but even the people most anti live feed cannot argue that if something big was kicking off in that house, they wouldn’t be rushing to the live feed to watch the drama unfold. Fresh, unpredictable and live.
“All of this is so simple to me that it literally depresses me how stupid and up their own arses the higher ups at Channel 5 must be to not realise it.”
This leads me on neatly to the amount of buzz live feed creates. During the recent Celebrity Big Brother, we were gifted to a measly 4 episodes of live feed. But the buzz on Twitter, other social media and forums when it was on was huge, to the point that even at its midnight showings it would trend across the UK. There is no argument to be made for “no demand” as a reason that has been previously given by Channel 5. That is simply not true.
Big Brother thrives on buzz, and the thing that has confused me more than ever is that as we reached the peak of the digital age with the burst of Twitter, online media and Facebook, that is when live feed has been taken away. Who on earth made that decision?? Surely this is the BEST time for live feed with the amount of buzz a huge live moment in the house could cause would be astronomical, directly increasing ratings on the highlights show for the next day, bringing in new long-term viewers, increasing ratings, increasing headlines, increasing EVERYTHING.
We are pretty much the only Big Brother across the world with no live feed. Other countries give live feed as a basic. Big Brother Canada gives multiple feeds for free on their website, whereas Big Brother US puts their extensive live feeds behind a pay wall.
Another argument that has been given for no live feed is the cost. Which, again, is absolute rubbish. The housemates are in the house 24 hours a day with a fully staffed gallery ever-present to produce the show. The studio complex even has their own in-house live feed which is not broadcasted. Therefore, where is the cost? Any additional costs for compliance purposes would be minimal at best.
Big Brother Live should not be broadcast on TV. I completely understand that times have changed and that there isn’t necessarily a great space for Big Brother Live on TV. Obviously, no one would EVER want to get in the way of the fabled SuperCasino, or stand in the way of the ratings powerhouse that is the 5 Star channel. However, Channel 5 could actually MAKE money from live feed by streaming it on their own website, and charging people to access the live feed with a series pass, much like Channel 4 did for their final series. (Although they would make a lot more money if they didn’t give away 1,000 passes for free like Channel 4 did).
Think about it. If Channel 5 charged £15.99 for a series pass and just 1% of viewers purchased it, based on the most recent series:
2.4 million viewers / 100 = 24,000 viewers (1%)
24,000 x £15.99 = £383,760
These numbers are extremely conservative as I believe far more than 1% of viewers would purchase a pass, especially if they offered a daily and weekly rate during the series.
£383,760 is enough to pay for a more than a few Celebrity housemates pay cheques, or one big signing. But even taking the financial benefit out of this, the buzz it creates would increase the income from Big Brother hugely as more buzz will equal higher ratings which in turn will increase advertising revenue.
All of this is so simple to me that it literally depresses me how stupid and up their own arses the higher ups at Channel 5 must be to not realise it.
On top of the buzz and additional revenue live feed would bring the show, it will also bring something even more valuable. Viewer trust.
Since moving to Channel 5 the show has been plagued with criticism that the show is covering up key moments in the house, such as housemates like Rylan being allowed out of the house to rehearse for the X Factor tour, or more recently Chloe being allowed out of the house to film for Geordie Shore. Combine that with other incidents that viewers and ex housemates claim Channel 5 have covered up, such as in series 12 Jay having a poo in the freezer in retaliation to co-housemates annoying him, or Helen from Big Brother 15 or Christopher Biggins apparently receiving warnings for incidents that never aired.
“After all, Big Brother is watching, but we don’t seem to be.”
Live feed would give viewers a sense of trust back and would stop us feeling that Big Brother producers are against us, would stop us thinking that scenes are scripted or staged and give viewers a sense of control that the show tagline “Who goes, you decide” really does actually mean something still.
Producers must stop lying to the viewers and covering things up. Half the time if Big Brother were just honest with the viewers, nobody would care. It’s frustrating as hell that Endemol and Big Brother ask viewers to tune in for three series per year, invest their time, interest and money in housemates, only to remove them with absolutely no official word on why. Most recently housemate Ray J was booted from the house with no explanation on Big Brother or on the side-show Bit on the Side.
I completely understand that there may be legal reasons why things cannot be shared. However, in the case of Ray J, if he is removed for a specific reason then they should be able to share that. If it truly was for “medical reasons” why were we not told that Ray J was ill in the first place? We do not need to know specifically what is wrong with them if the HOUSEMATE decides that they do not want the public to know. However, in Big Brother the whole point is that you’re entering a house and there should not be any restrictions on what can be aired. Surely this is written in to every housemates contract, celebrity or not?
The HOUSEMATE deciding whether their medical issues can be aired should be important too. As all too often on Channel 5 we hear the excuse “I was ill” during their time in the house as a reason for not being present in the edit. Notably Sam Faiers who began to present Crohn’s Disease symptoms whilst in the house or Calum Best who said he was suffering from an ear infection after leaving. I do not believe for a second that either of these housemates asked Big Brother not to mention the fact they were ill in the edit.
If Big Brother cannot show footage for a legal reasons, then they should say that via an official announcement instead of covering things up like he was never there in the first place. It leaves viewers cold. It makes people wonder why they bother watching, and it certainly makes a laughing-stock out of the feeling that we are supposed to see “everything”. After all, Big Brother is watching, but we don’t seem to be.
Whilst I’m talking about the show barely giving us any information, can I just ask, what the hell is Bit on the Side supposed to be? I mean, clearly it’s REALLY just an avenue to improve Rylan’s shots at bigger presenting jobs (which he is doing a great job at, I must add), but the show itself is lacking severely. Channel 5 asks viewers to tune in 5-7 times per week, for an hour a night, usually at a ridiculous hour, to watch three minor “celebrities” (usually of the fame whore variety) shouting over each other whilst an audience made of the same 20 or so people scream as loud as they can each night in an effort to be heard.
What the hell does that have to do with Big Brother?
I remember back in the days of Little Brother that the dullest moments in each episode would be when Dermot would interview to chat about the show, the most fun part of that would usually be working out whether they actually watch the show or not or whether they were just there to plug something, usually the latter! It’s the same on Bit on the Side, it’s a real facepalm when it’s apparent we have to watch a whole hour of some nobody talk about a show they don’t even watch, giving opinions that have been spoon fed to them already.
Where’s the actual reason to tune in for a Big Brother viewer? It’s been lost over the years. They need to revamp the show and make it more about Big Brother and less about fame hungry nobodies, like that loser who contorts his face on purpose because it went viral how stupid his reactions were.
Perhaps more clips of footage that didn’t make the highlights show for the day, extra “excusives” and news that may not necessarily make it in to the main show and live viewer polls via the app etc. Make it more interactive, make it more about Big Brother, make it worth watching!
Because one thing is for sure, Rylan is above that show now. He is an accomplished presenter and it’s disheartening to see him be a part of such a mess. He’s the main draw for the show now, with his comedic wit and timing being the best part of it, that and Luke Kempner of course who is GOLD for BOTS.
Obviously BOTS is not the main show, however the feel of a series can sometimes come from a spinoff show for hundreds of thousands of viewers and they need to hit the mark with both shows to thrive, especially when it is the more devoted viewers that tend to tune in night after night.
Back to the show itself and another key problem lately is the tasks.
Tasks seem to have become a joke in themselves. No longer do housemates have a 3 day weekly task that determines their shopping budget which used to be an integral part of the show and viewing. Instead, Channel 5 prefer to have daily tasks. I prefer the old format however I can completely understand why they want to have daily tasks. My issue is with the way they are presented.
“That is not a task, that is producer manipulation. That is structured reality. That is not Big Brother.”
Tasks need to be presented to both viewers and housemates as having an actual reason. Countless times in the most recent series I was watching an episode where a task was happening and asking “why are they even doing this?” – No reward was stated on many occasions for winning the task, and even worse in many tasks no rules for failing or passing were even set! Just a wooly “do your bit to the producers satisfaction” rubbish. That is not a task, that is producer manipulation. That is structured reality. That is not Big Brother.
If Channel 5 must have a “daily” task, that’s fine, but incorporate it in to a format! Why not have a daily task where the aim is to win “housemate points”, “BB credits”, whatever you want to call them. If housemates pass a task then they win a set number of points, if they fail, they do not, or points can be removed. Then at the end of the week have a big shopping task where the points collected across the week are integral in to whether they pass or fail the shopping task. For example, 500 points gives them a five minute limit to finish an obstacle course, 300 points gives them three, or something along those lines.
“It makes me think the producers think “our viewers are short attention span idiots”.”
This would make the daily tasks more interesting and captivate the viewer far more than the haphazard mess that has been the norm for a while now.
Another issue with the tasks lately is just how negative they are. Why does every task have to be designed to cause arguments? It gets extremely boring for the viewer when that’s all that happens, whereas if it is a surprise rarity then it can make for a spectacular episode.
The editing of tasks is yet another problem, with music being placed over a really fast paced edit which really takes us away from the feel inside the house, how the task actually went and once again makes it feel more fake than real. Let us see it all! Let us see the little moments, because the little moments are what makes this endurance show what it is. This type of editing insults me as a viewer, it makes me feel like I’m watching a CBBC show instead of CBB. It makes me think the producers think “our viewers are short attention span idiots”.
The edit of the show overall is a problem. This was slightly improved in the most recent series compared to the overBEARing series of Bear, where every episode and every moment of the series was simply Bear. But the most recent series still had its issues, they mostly ignored James Cosmo in the edit, along with eventual winner Coleen for the bulk of the show, which left a real sour taste on final night for many when somebody who was barely shown walked away the winner. It makes a mockery of the show, and leads people to switch off.
Show everyone equally, even if the conversations they have are not that exciting in some self entitled producers opinion, viewers want to see it! Viewers want to see everyone. If someone is boring, let the public decide that! Don’t simply hide them away, until they have an argument with someone, talk about gameplay or get featured in a task as is the norm these days.
Producers on the show use the argument “we only have 42 minute to show entertainment”. This is not a statement I accept. Channel 4 never had a problem showing everyone in the house and C5 have an extra 42 minutes a night with BOTS. Use that! Show us more in-depth highlights! Or even better, give us live feed so we can see the show you are paying contestants hundreds of thousands to make!
Yet another huge issue is the lack of any format. The format of the show is supposed to be: housemates nominate, the 2 or more housemates with the most votes are up for eviction, with one being evicted per eviction. Yet Channel 5 feel the need to change this week on week, with no nominations format obvious it’s not clear to anyone what the hell is going on anymore. How many people are supposed to be up for eviction each week? What are the rules? Why have a twist every single week? How is it a twist if it’s every week? That’s just the norm, and it’s no longer surprising.
Viewers have much longer attention spans than television producers will give us credit for. You do not need to keep treating us as children.
Channel 5 love to go on about how Big Brother is a game show, and highlight the fact that they are all playing the “game”. But how can it be a “game” when there are no rules? By sheer definition, it’s not a game. It’s much more based on luck whether you get through to the final on Channel 5’s Big Brother, as their “twists” are always game breaking. For example, they clearly want housemates to play the “game” in Celebrity Big Brother (even though there is absolutely no prize) by being ‘entertaining’. Channel 5 class entertaining as being argumentative for some reason. But why on earth would they then give housemates the sole choice of evicting Austin? It defeats the point a game entirely.
Austin may not have been everyones cup of tea, but he was clearly winding his fellow housemates up and providing entertainment and a talking point on the outside world. He was clearly playing his own game and had just survived a public vote. But Big Brother changed it which meant he was booted out, which highlights my point. There is no game, there is no format, and that needs to change. Viewers are disillusioned with this. You only need to take a look on Facebook or Twitter to see how annoyed people are with certain twists.
“I attribute Big Brother with the rising acceptance of LGBT people since 2000”
The majority of people just want to see the game played out the way it was meant to be played, with the odd twist, but certainly not one every week!
Big Brother also needs to get out of the business of deciding what is right or wrong. Many things in life are not black or white, and the removal of certain housemates has been a real bugbear of mine. Not least Christopher Biggins in 2016 and Ken Morley in 2015. Both of them were saying things that were their own opinions, whether they were right of wrong. They both ended up being ejected from the house for this, with Biggins’ offences not even being broadcasted.
It is with this issue where I believe that the producers of Big Brother have no idea of the show they are running. A massive point of Big Brother is showing people for who they are, and highlighting key social issues when you bring together different types of people from all walks of life, with all kinds of opinions. It’s sure to cause debate, and that’s a great thing. I attribute Big Brother with the rising acceptance of LGBT people since 2000, and that is thanks to Channel 4’s daring attitude when it came to placing certain types of people on national TV during a time that it wasn’t as accepted as it has now become.
Who can forget Brian Dowling or Nadia Almada winning their respective series, one as a gay housemate and the other as a transgender housemate. In Nadia’s series, she was in the house with an openly homophobic housemate Ahmed, a step that Channel 5 would never dare to take. But for thousands of viewers, I believe seeing this type of interaction broke down social barriers and ended up highlighting the negatives in society and shining a light on the positives.
Why remove housemates with an opinion? Air them! Then let the public decide whether they should stay or go, because THAT is the show!
Big Brother producers certainly need to stop being worried about censorship, and show what happens. The show is Big Brother, it is a social experiment, and the edit should highlight that.
Christ, Marcus Bentley gives us enough warning about offensive language every single episode, I’m sure we can cope, and I’m sure Channel 5 can argue that strong opinions are expected to air by Big Brother viewers to Ofcom and their minor army of complainers.
Then there are live evictions which seem to be a mess. On a Tuesday, why on earth doesn’t Channel 5 extend the show by 15-30 minutes to stop it being such a condensed mess? But the biggest issue with the live shows is the interviews. The interviews are SO boring these days that I find myself falling asleep when they are interviewing even the biggest characters in the house.
The live show interviews need to be more in depth and discuss big points in the house. This series, really wooly questions were asked and housemates were given a really easy time. I’m not saying Emma needs to attack the evictees, not at all. But when there has been some controversy surrounding a housemate on the outside world, why in the world would you not ask the questions the public really want to hear? Give the housemates a chance to give their side of the story, like with Nicola and her “mother” comment to Kim. Let her say on the biggest platform possible that she didn’t realise the full story, if that really is the truth instead of covering it up. Stop asking boring questions like “how did you get on with your best mate?” – We don’t care, we KNOW the answer to that already. Give us something else.
Above all this show needs to feel real again. I don’t agree with some die-hard viewers that the show needs to go completely back to its roots. It’s moved beyond the pure social experiment that it was and it can never go back for fear of being branded boring. However, it does need to strike a connection with viewers, include them and stop making them feel like it’s the show Vs the viewers, stop being so closed off and make it a joy to watch again and big event, instead of the mess and joke that Big Brother currently is.
Believe it or not, I’ve only scratched the surface with the ideas and thoughts I have on this show. But I fear with just over 4,000 words and counting, it’s time for me to stop.
Thank you for reading, and please leave your thoughts in the comments section as I’d love to hear them.