“Big Brother”: A Successful Reality Show2008IntroductionThe first version of the reality television show “Big Brother” was telecast in the Netherlands in 1999 (Sparks, 2007). Thereafter seven rounds of the show have been aired in the United Kingdom since 2000, after the show’s success in Germany and Spain as well as series in many other countries including the United States, Australia, Mexico and so on (Schiffman 2000). The show itself was initially found to be shocking, as the would-be British producer, Peter Bazalgette, wrote to the Dutch producer: “The rats-in-a-cage-who’ll-do-anything-for-money is something that I doubt we could sell on to commercial television…as currently constituted, we feel the show has a narrow market in the UK” (quoted in Sparks, 2007).
The show essentially involved locking a set of contestants, unknown to each other, in a house for a period of time and watching them through surveillance camera installed inside. The contestants would be ‘evicted’ from the house on the basis of audience votes till the last ‘survivor’ remained. The show is one of various types of reality shows telecast by television companies across the world, ranging from game shows like Big Brother, Survivor and American Idol docu-soaps like Airport and ‘true crime’ shows like Crimewatch UK.
Big Brother, produced by Endemol and telecast by Channel 4, has been one of the most popular as well as controversial. Storms like charges of racism, that raged in January 2007 when, in Celebrity Big Brother, Indian actress Shilpa Shetty complained of racist slur by fellow inmates, and when the Advertising Standard Authority charged Nestle for distributing 100 golden tickets with Kit Kat packets without sufficient disclosures for the lottery draw, have increased the ratings for the show by giving it free publicity.
Besides, the huge popularity of the show has drawn immense advertising revenues for the television channel. In this paper, I will discuss the key success factors of reality shows with particular reference to Big Brother, the longest-running one, and the type of advertising campaigns that it has used. Key Success FactorsSaturated with shows like soap operas, situation comedies and variety shows, reality shows are the latest of the tricks that television companies employ to draw mass audience.
In the United Kingdom, in particular, ITV had maintained a near monopoly in commercial programs till the early 1990s as BBC concentrated mostly on public service broadcasting. With increasing penetration of cable and satellite television, ITV began to face real competition. All broadcasters then vied with each other to draw mass audience, particularly the youth who contributed a major share of the market. Various techniques have been used to attract audience, from subcontracting programming to independent producers, re-use old ideas by making new programs on traditional formats, innovate new formats and pushing related merchandise like books and DVD with programs (Sparks, 2007).
Reality shows emerged as a result of the constant drive towards innovation since these could be made with little investment – actors and writers had to be paid minimum fees, at all; there were no need for rehearsals and elaborate sets; and there were no need for rights acquisitions. These were projected as an alternative to the traditional drama and soap operas. After a series of docu-shows like driving tests, working in the aviation, pet care and makeover of wardrobes and houses, reality game shows like Big Brother, American Idol and Survivor were produced.
These shows became immediate hits in the United States and the United Kingdom, after being test-marketed in other countries. Since these programs have been produced by independent companies after being tried in smaller markets, producers could bargain hard with the broadcasters. As a result, these are relatively more expensive than the previous types of reality shows. For example, the Big Brother employs a production team of 200 people, including 50 cameramen and 13 producers.
Celebrity Big Brother had the additional fee costs although the celebrities were not as expensive as the A-list ones. It was reported that Shilpa Shetty was paid a fee in the range of GBP 200,000 – 300,000. The huge expenses were paid back in advertising revenues. Channel 4 earned its highest ratings in 2000 because of this show. The 2000 show attracted 10 million viewers; the second series attracted 4.5 million viewers, which was a 70 percent increase on the broadcaster’s average viewership. Big Brother 3 in 2003 attracted 10 million viewers and 10 million text messages and a 30 second advertising spot cost GBP 40,000, three times higher than any other show that year (Hill, quoted in Sparks, 2007).