MEDIA FORUM: Could other shows claw in cash like Big Brother? - A success for Channel 4, in terms of boosting ratings and revenue, what can other channels learn from this Big Brother, Jeremy Lee asks?

Well, what to do now that this year's Big Brother has finished?

If you find yourself grieving, desperate and sobbing inconsolably into your Big Brother-branded T-shirt, perhaps you can find some comfort in the Inside Big Brother book or through watching your favourite moments again on the Big Brother Uncut DVD.

There may also be some solace in watching the housemates masterfully try to stay in the headlines by getting drunk at TV award ceremonies (E4 is following the winner Kate around all week) and attempting to queue jump into London nightclubs.

Once again, and to many people's surprise, the strangely compelling "personality contest has been another success for Channel 4. Big Brother gave the station its best ever audience share in its 20-year history, peaking at 9.9 million viewers.

It also helped to prop up E4 and the Rise breakfast show, as well as being very financially rewarding for those involved. At 25 pence a go, some 8.6 million votes were cast in the final vote, which, in addition to the 14.1 million cast throughout the rest of the series, goes some way to making-up Channel 4's £20 million shortfall for this year. Internet users were charged £10 per month to watch live action via their computer screen and more than 25,000 subscribed.

The Big Brother sponsor O2 also takes a cut of the cash, a bonus on top of raising awareness of its rebranding. No doubt the rival commercial networks view Channel 4 with some jealousy. But what has contributed to the success of Big Brother 3 and what can the other channels learn?

"First and foremost the programme has been moved on and developed further across new platforms. The technical innovations have upped the ante in terms of audience participation, Polly Cochrane, the managing director of marketing at Channel 4 and head of 4creative, says.

One of the biggest innovations was the introduction of text voting, which as the figures suggest proved very popular with devotees. But Channel 4 has also used the Big Brother phenomenon in constructing its schedule.

"Big Brother went seven days a week on the main channel and E4's Big Brother's Little Brother was shown on Channel 4 on Sunday. The scheduling has also supported V Graham Norton and the new series of Friends, Cochrane adds.

"In marketing terms, leading up to Big Brother 3 we wanted to encourage the media's and the public's sense of ownership of the programme. We created an icon in the eye, which gave us a clear identity that works across all platforms."

But can this ownership and interactive concept be used for other programme formats? Well, Cochrane seems to think so. "Yes, and we are looking at it. I don't think it's about what is the next reality programme but rather what format is suitable for similar exploitation."

ITV's attempt at getting the viewers involved with its own stab at reality TV, Survivor, was not nearly as successful as that of Big Brother. However, it did achieve viewer interaction with Pop Idol, and with a new series of Pop Stars coming up it'll be interesting to see what the network comes up with to boost its own depleted revenue streams.

Greg Grimmer, a managing partner at Optimedia, thinks that Channel 4 had one big advantage over ITV. "Channel 4 marketed Big Brother brilliantly with the initial teaser campaign, marketing throughout the series and the voting blipverts in the break - it looks like a proper campaign rather than a series of programme trails, he says.

"ITV's Pop Idol was marketed well as a programme but not as a channel, which is what Big Brother effectively became. The real question is how successful Big Brother would have been if it had been shown on any of the other channels."

Grimmer thinks that out of all the broadcasters, BBC Worldwide is already eclipsing Channel 4 in exploiting its programme properties. "Does 4ventures make as much money as BBC Worldwide? I rather doubt it and these additional revenue streams save each licence fee payer £5 a year, he points out.

And he believes that this is set to grow with the BBC's position as the licence holder of Digital Terrestrial Television.

One way that all mainstream broadcasters have tried to diversify into new revenue steams is through events and event programming. But none have really yet found successful ways of maximising their exploitation, or found a cash cow as profitable as Big Brother.

John Owen, the communications director at Starcom Motive, is cautious that in the rush to find a successor, the broadcasters could get it badly wrong. "Can other broadcasters learn from Big Brother? Well the danger is that they'll just try to jump on the bandwagon and fail, he says.

But Owen thinks that digital technology has finally found a useful and profitable purpose. "People often throw their hands up in the air in desperation at fragmentation but there is an upside - digital technology allows this interactivity. One of the most significant things about interactivity is that it can give a channel programme loyalty and this is a powerful weapon for the channel and the advertisers."

Owen says viewers who are engaged with the programme are more likely to engage with the advertising. Taylor Nelson Sofres research shows that attentive ratings (derived from viewers who watch a programme for more than 25 minutes) are 53 per cent more effective at driving sales.

The problem though is finding what content will work, as launching interactive platforms is expensive and by no means guaranteed to earn revenue. "People will only interact if there is content that grabs them, so the TV companies need to come up with a programme that is fresh and engaging, Owen says.

And this is clearly the problem that the broadcasters are trying to overcome.

Martin Sambrook, Media Audits' global account director, is no fan of Big Brother, but concedes that commercially it is as yet unparalleled.

"As much as I detest the programme, what's brilliant about it is that it works on so many levels. It's also an important part of the commercial strategy because it provides the backbone of the schedule for the nine weeks and it's got an enviable audience profile, he says.

"Big Brother demonstrates a good business model for exploiting other business streams. It provides talked-about TV and endless front pages in the tabloids. Sadly, it's become a cultural phenomenon, he laments.

But in these post-Reith days, TV cultural phenomena are all about generating the maximum revenue for the broadcaster rather than providing the best quality and most diverse programming. And Channel 4 is making the most of this.

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