Big Brother’s future as a primetime fixture on UK television looks decidedly shaky.
The reality show format – which spent a decade on Channel 4 before moving to Channel 5 – has now been airing on British TV for 17 years and is in dire need of a revamp.
At the moment it is bumping along, with consolidated ratings of just over 1 million a night in the three versions we have seen this year – two celebrity and one “civilian” series, the most recent crowning former Girl Aloud Sarah Harding champion without a great deal of fanfare. But with the success of Love Island on ITV2, Channel 5 has woken up to the fact that the former standard bearer of reality shows is lagging behind.
Ben Frow, Channel 5’s director of programmes, was pretty clear about this at the Edinburgh Television Festival last week, telling delegates that he was feeling fed up with the programme and even revealing that he would prefer not to have it on his channel.
“I would be much happier if the channel did not have Big Brother on it,” Frow said. “I like the ratings but I want to create our own programmes. I don’t really want other people’s programmes. I want my own programmes that we have created.”
Love Island is the kind of show he is setting his sights on, ITV2’s homegrown series that has captured viewers’ imaginations – especially the elusive target demographic of 18 to 34 year olds – and this year was far more talked about and warmly received than Big Brother.
“Love Island gave us a little bit of a jolt this year, and it’s no bad thing,” added Frow. “It got the two-week head start, which made me f***ing angry frankly.
“Then of course because of the Euros we were playing it at 9 o’clock, and they were at 9 o’clock… there’s no denying it, Love Island was very successful for ITV.”
The total number of people who watched the series finale totalled 2.43 million, making it ITV 2’s most watched programme ever.
By contrast, the Celebrity Big Brother final had an overnight audience of just 900,000 – consolidated with catch-up viewing to 1.2 million.
So urgent is the problem that Frow is understood to have tasked Endemol Shine, the production company behind Big Brother, to deliver changes ahead of a renegotiation of their current deal, which expires next year.
In fact, according to sources Endemol has assigned a dedicated team to the task and is employing its “smartest brains” on the revamp.
The production company is known to be hard at work attempting to deliver the kind of surprises that some at Channel 5 thought would be delivered this year but weren’t – there was an extension built to the house but for many it was just more of the same.
So where does that leave the show? With one year left on the current contract, Channel 5 viewers will at least be getting another Celebrity series of the show in January, followed by a standard run and another celeb version later in the summer. And it is clear that it needs to reignite interest for Channel 5 to go all in for a new deal.
Channel 5 sources suggest that it is now “up to Endemol” to offer an appetising package that can give Love Island a run for its money. And Frow is very clear on the subject.
“I would like to have that really big, brave, bold editorial discussion with the makers of Big Brother and go, ‘what could we do that would make us leaders?’
“Big Brother has been the number one reality show in this country for 17 years. I do not want to be second, I want to keep being a leader in terms of reality.”