November 5th 2018. For most people, this was just another typical Guy Fawkes Night. But for 700,000 or so loyal fans, it was the night that Big Brother finally whimpered to an end in the UK.
How could it be that the original reality juggernaut, that achieved a whopping 9.5million viewers for it’s inaugural final way back at the turn of the millennium, had fallen so far from grace that less than a tenth of its original fanbase could be bothered to tune in to witness its demise?
Many will lay the blame firmly at the feet of the broadcaster Channel 5. After all, it’s common knowledge that a certain Director of programmes at the station held the Big Brother franchise in disregard. Not only were the show’s hardworking production team, and subsequently the fandom made aware of the networks decision to bring the curtain down at the last minute, but the remainder of the run – including the all-important live eviction shows – were played out at 10:00pm or later for the majority of the run. A somewhat strange decision when you consider that Big Brother was still very much one of Channel 5’s most high profile shows.
One thing that should be taken into consideration of course is viewer fatigue, and I don’t just mean through all the late nights brought about by the final series’ start times. At the end of the original run on Channel 4, the magic of seeing a group of people locked in a house and left to their own devices for a couple of months had started to fade, with less and less people tuning in. By the time 2018 rolled around, and after an exhausting three series a year, Big Brother in the UK just wasn’t appointment viewing any more. For the key 16-24 audience that the show had increasingly been trying to aim at during its final years it just wasn’t relevant. They had Love Island for their reality fix, or countless numbers of MTV shows that were far more tightly formatted towards their demographic. Channel 5 tried to take advantage of this by casting familiar faces from these shows in Big Brother. But by doing so they only served to drag the UK franchise even further into the gutter, resulting in the absolute horror that was BB18 and driving even more of their dwindling audience away who just couldn’t stomach what the format had become.
As Big Brother UK dragged itself into 2018, the rumours were already swirling around about its imminent demise. Despite this though, we were treated to what were arguably two of the best celebrity runs in years. Yet they still couldn’t attract the level of viewership that the series had enjoyed in the past. When the axe was dropped at the start of BB19, as sad as it was, it really didn’t come as a surprise. Frustratingly of course, BB19 turned out to be Channel 5’s best series to date. But it was too little, too late.
In the year and a half or so since the house closed its doors for the final time, many, including BBUK’s very own Rylan Clark-Neal have been calling for the show to return. The closest we’ve had so far has been Big Blagger’s live streams of classic episodes. But now Channel 4 have surprised us all by announcing a two-week run of classic Channel 4 episodes, complete with brand new introductions from both Davina and Rylan, just in time for the twentieth anniversary of the show. The reaction to this news online and in the press has been predominantly positive. Although many people – me included – have questioned the absence of any shows from the Channel 5 era. This is most likely nothing more than a simple rights issue, but it is still a shame that we won’t get to enjoy any of the classic moments from the show’s later years – and yes, there were plenty of them.
With all the furore surrounding the run of repeats later this year, many have been speculating about the possibility of a third revival of the show. I think we all know that for there to be even the remotest possibility of that happening, the fortnight of repeats needs to rate well for spin-off channel E4. And I don’t just mean the initial couple of episodes, but the entire run has to be hitting a consistently high average.
Just for example, most programmes on E4 for the week April 27 to May 3rd 2020 – including the consolidated figures from 4OD – manage around the 700k mark, with only one programme that week scraping through the 1 million barrier. At the end of its life on Channel 4, Big Brother was averaging around 2 million viewers and on Channel 5 less than half of that. So, if the repeat run manages to hit an average of around 700,000 to 1,000,000 viewers across the fortnight, that can only bode well for the possibility of a full-on revival.
So, what would a revival on E4 look like?
Well in order to do so you need to take into account a number of key factors. Firstly, E4 skews young in terms of the target audience it hopes to attract. 16-34 to be precise. So, I would expect any revival of Big Brother to do the same. The housemates would more than likely be limited in terms of age-range in order to appeal to the intended audience. In BB19, the age of housemates ranged from 18-31 and I would expect to see a similar kind of age-range going forward. Let’s face it, a younger audience is more likely to engage with a group of people similar in age and with similar experiences to themselves than a fun-sponge like Carole from BB8.
The second thing to take in consideration is the financial implications of a revival. We know that Big Brother in its former home wasn’t exactly the cheapest of programmes to produce, and I would imagine Channel 5, as one of what are considered the five main channels, have a considerably higher programming budget than a spin-off channel such as E4.
Given those budget constraints I would expect any initial revival to be made as cheaply as possible. No extravagant outdoor eviction set for example. A house set purpose built in a large studio that can easily be dismantled between series. More and more product placement in order to offset costs and a shorter series length, closer to the 50 or so days that we were so used to back on Channel 5. Lastly, and possibly most significantly for many people, little to no live feed. At least, not on traditional broadcast television anyway.
If I’m honest, I doubt we’ll be seeing a revival next year. Given the current situation in the world with Coronavirus, programming budgets are being slashed left, right and centre, and money saving is the order of the day. I think it far more likely that we’ll get a revival – dependent on how well received the repeats are – in 2022.
And if that does happen? Well, I would be more than happy to see the producers continue to build on the good groundwork they laid with BB19. A strong, mostly interesting cast. Creative and engaging tasks. An underlying theme similar to the Big Coins that continued throughout the series, rather than being abandoned after a week like so many other themes throughout the Channel 5 years. Letting the storylines build and grow organically. No mean tweets and no unnecessary outside contact.
Is it time for a Big Brother revival in the UK?
Well, maybe. Eventually. If the conditions are right. But for now, let’s just enjoy the memories that both Big Blagger and shortly E4 are giving us, and hope that one day, soon, Big Brother might just get back to us.