Why is Channel 5 bothering with Big Brother?

Big Brother Former Big Brother winner Brian Dowling is the new presenter of the Channel 5 show

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Less than a year since Channel 4 bid a final farewell to Big Brother, the TV reality juggernaut is back.

The series, which became a national talking point when it began in 2000, has been resurrected by Channel 5.

In April it was announced that the broadcaster had signed a two-year deal with the show's creators Endemol.

Gaining notoriety for Nasty Nick's deceit in the first series, sexual encounters among housemates and romances which were later played out in glossy magazines, the programme was initially a huge hit for Channel 4.

But a drop in ratings in recent years led Channel 4's director of television Kevin Lygo to announce in 2009 that the show "had reached a natural end point".

'Positive and interesting'

So why is Channel 5 investing so much time and effort in reviving the format?

Bosses are hopeful the programme's reincarnation will attract new audiences to the network.

Richard Desmond

Channel 5 owner Richard Desmond has reportedly had a hands-on role in Big Brother's relaunch

"This will allow us to connect to a younger audience, and very importantly, we will continue to serve the viewers who love us," says Jeff Ford, Channel 5's director of programmes.

"But we're not going to tailor it for a Channel 5 audience because we want all audiences who used to love the show."

Speaking at the series launch party in Elstree, where the Big Brother house has been refurbished, he promises fans that the celebrity spin-off of the new series will include only the "the biggest, most colourful and interesting names around".

He says they are focusing on making the programme "fun, positive and interesting", which reflects the brand values of the channel.

'Ratings gods'

Tim Hincks, chief executive of Endemol, says the regular version of the series, which begins immediately after the three-week celebrity series, is going to be "entertaining, funny, glamorous and occasionally sexy".

According to reports, Channel 5 owner Richard Desmond has been closely involved in the preparation for the new show, even selecting contestants himself.

The media mogul, who also owns the Daily Star, the Daily Express and OK! magazine, has high hopes for Big Brother, telling the Media Guardian he wants to generate huge ratings of at least 20 million viewers.

Start Quote

So it's in the hands of the ratings gods and I pray to them every night and that's all I can do”

End Quote Jeff Ford, director of Channel 5 programmes

But how can a show that ran for 10 years and was given a thorough send-off be successfully resurrected?

Former Big Brother winner Brian Dowling, who is replacing presenter Davina McCall in the new version, predicts it will be a success because it is "missing from people's TV screens".

The 33-year-old, who won the second series in 2001 and Ultimate Big Brother last year, adds: "Let's be honest, Endemol and Channel Five are not spending £220m for no good reason.

"Think about it, Channel 5 is right next to Channel 4 and if people are real fans, they'll watch it regardless of what channel it's on."

But some fans are uncertain. Dominic Norwell, 31, from Whitstable in Kent, has watched every series since its inception.

Analysis

Can Channel 5 make Big Brother a national talking point again? That depends on whether it has persuaded enough high-profile names to appear on Celebrity Big Brother, the launch pad for the series on its new channel.

But more importantly, it depends on coverage in magazines and tabloid newspapers not owned by Richard Desmond.

He bought Channel 5 as a way of extending the "celebrity" focus of his print media empire into TV. Desmond's titles - OK! magazine, the Daily Express, the Daily Star and their Sunday versions - can be relied on to promote Big Brother. So can Channel 5's OK TV! programme, which is relocating to the Big Brother house.

The Daily Star proclaims it's the Official Big Brother paper with cover stories and double-page spreads on which celebrities are tipped to be in or out.

But the Sun and the Daily Mirror - which have many more readers - are more interested in ITV's X Factor, "counting down" to its first show on Saturday.

"The closure they gave the last series on Channel 4 was too final," he says.

"To bring it back on a smaller channel is just not going to work. If there's nothing else on, people might migrate over to and flick it on, but it won't be like Channel 4's show where people would plan their Friday nights round the eviction."

Media analyst Toby Syfret from Enders Analysis says the success of the programme is "immensely important" to Channel 5.

"It's the big buy they have made since last year, there's a lot of money riding on it.

"There are figures all over the place about what it is worth and with that sort of money they are intending on making a big splash."

He says the format - which was broadcast in 87 countries last year - is "very important property" and could "hurt" Channel 4 in terms of sales and viewing figures.

"If you look at the audience trends of Big Brother over the years it's gone down and it is less fashionable for the young than it was some years ago, but it still delivered a very good audience profile.

"If it's successful it will do the [Channel 5] brand nothing but good."

Popular formula

Mr Ford is equally confident the show will be a big hit, quoting Kevin Costner's character from the 1989 film Field Of Dreams.

"If you build it they will come. So we've built it, so obviously because we've built it they're going to come, aren't they?

"It's in the hands of the ratings gods and I pray to them every night and that's all I can do," he laughs.

Scene taken from the very first Big Brother The first outing of Big Brother was a landmark series

The ratings formula was not proven when Australian soap Neighbours moved from BBC One to Channel 5 in 2008.

The show ended on a Friday and by the following Monday had lost 300,000 viewers.

Channel 5's attempt at producing reality TV in the past has not been as successful as its terrestrial counterparts.

In 2004 the network launched Back to Reality, which featured stars from other reality shows.

The Farm made its debut in the same year, its most memorable moment being Rebecca Loos stimulating a pig for breeding purposes.

Neither show was hugely popular, which might explain why producers have decided not to tamper with the successful Big Brother formula.

"If you were to change the format too much, it wouldn't be Big Brother anymore," says Gavin Henderson, the programme's creative director.

He previously worked on the third series of the show, which introduced the late Jade Goody to our screens.

A few physical changes will be introduced, he says, which will include a slightly bigger garden and one bedroom instead of two in the Big Brother compound.

He adds that there will also be a new approach to editing, which means viewers "won't necessarily have to sit and watch it every single day for three months".

Live streaming of content all day every day has also been replaced with the emphasis now being on following updates on social network sites Twitter and Facebook.

No doubt there will be blanket coverage of the show across all of Desmond's publications.

But whether that will be enough remains to be seen as channel bosses nervously await the first set of viewing figures on Friday.

Celebrity Big Brother begins on Channel 5 on Thursday 18 August at 2100 BST.

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