Media Forum: Will BB return excite clients?

Is it just fans who will embrace Big Brother's comeback?

"OMG I'm soooo happy." So said Fiona, one of 185 publicly spirited individuals, who within hours had taken the time and effort to append comments to a press release on that announced that the broadcaster had just signed a two-year deal to broadcast the "smash hit show" Big Brother.

There was much love in evidence here. Tom "Channel 5, I LOVE YOU!" was equally effusive, as was "thank you so so so so so much for bringing our favourite show back" Scott. In fact, of 185 responses, only 12 had been removed by the moderator and a minuscule four were carpingly negative.

The Channel 5 press office, we might conclude, would be well-placed to organise the next general election in Burma (should one prove necessary).

We particularly liked the two fans who popped in to say they might not be able to watch because they'd be in Lanzarote this summer. It's always nice to feel in some way associated with the Jet Set, no matter how peripherally.

The commentary in rival media outlets, it has to be said, was rather more ambivalent. Big Brother has never been everyone's cup of tea.

Arguably, though, Big Brother on Channel 5 makes a lot more sense than Big Brother on Channel 4, which was meant to be a rather more challenging and culturally innovative outlet. In its new home, it will dovetail more neatly with the celebrity sensationalism of other parts of the Desmond media empire - such as, for instance, OK!.

And Big Brother's audiences, though on the wane during its latter years on Channel 4, were, in the wider scheme of things, hardly to be sniffed at. The final of series 11 attracted four million viewers in August 2010. Channel 5's current toprated programme, CSI, has recently been pulling in 2.6 million on a good day.

On the other hand, Channel 5 claims to have paid £200 million to take the Endemol-produced show for the next two years. Given that this year's spot airtime share deals are already done, it would surely take a miracle for it to attract anything like £200 million in additional revenue across the two years - even if you factor in any potential there might be for cross-platform deals across TV and magazines.

Absolutely, John Davidson, the head of trading at Starcom MediaVest Group, says. He's not convinced of the rationale behind this move. He explains: "It will certainly bring further attention to the channel and probably some younger viewers to supplement its current profile. Past sponsorships have been dominated by telecoms companies. Northern & Shell will need to convince advertisers to buy into an holistic partnership across all Big Brother and N&S properties."

But Richard Kelly, the head of TV buying at Mindshare, is in a more generous mood. He's not sure advertisers will be excited as such - but many will be pleased.

He states: "The Big Brother brand diminished considerably over time while in Channel 4's stable, although for the right audience, it will still prove to be a draw and the lift versus the typical programme in Channel 5's schedule will be noticeable - it's still a few cuts above The Farm and Touch The Truck (lame shows from the lowest ebb in the channel's commissioning history), after all.

"At the same time, Channel 5's promise to make Big Brother brighter and sexier will cause a shudder among a considerable number of people."

Kelly says he's intrigued to see if the £200 million can be recouped. But, as Adrian English, the head of broadcast at Carat, points out, Desmond is nobody's fool. He adds: "I'm confident he wouldn't have paid that much if he didn't have good reason to think it would make a return. Channel 5 will be rather good at getting out there and selling - and there's more potential, compared with ITV and Channel 4, for Channel 5 to grab incremental revenue. Share deals are arguably less of a factor.

"If it gets anything like its Channel 4 audience, that will be a very good performance in Channel 5 terms."

And Chris Allen, the head of vision at MPG Media Contacts, points out that, whether you like it or not, Big Brother is a TV phenomenon, attracting an average of more than 2.5 million viewers per episode in its last season on Channel 4.

He concludes: "When Richard Desmond acquired Channel 5, he promised to invest in programming. The Big Brother deal represents a bold investment and puts Channel 5 firmly on the map. Channel 4's loss is Channel 5's gain and, in football punditry terms, this is a six-pointer for Mr Desmond."

NO - John Davidson, head of trading, Starcom MediaVest Group

"Big Brother is in its 11th year. Northern & Shell has considerable profit heritage but this investment will carry risk - more so if we are heading into a softer TV market. It's a brave investment decision."

MAYBE - Richard Kelly, head of TV buying, Mindshare

"Excited is too strong - but I believe some advertisers will be pleased by the prospect of its return. The brand diminished while at Channel 4, though for the right audience it will still prove to be a draw."

YES - Adrian English, head of broadcast, Carat

"I think it's good for Channel 5 and it's good for the industry generally - because it will stop summer ratings from imploding. If ratings implode, we'll see inflation - and that's something that no-one in the TV market wants to see this year."

YES - Chris Allen, head of vision, MPG Media Contacts

"Desmond's connections should pave the way for high-profile housemates for the celebrity version of the show. Advertisers will be motivated by the fact that they will be granted cost-efficient access to a desirable and elusive audience."

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