Big Brother UK: Viewers Up, SMS Votes Down
By Carlo Longino, Thu Aug 05 21:00:00 GMT 2004

Though the Big Brother reality show is attracting a record amount of viewers, the number of SMS votes isn't keeping pace. Is SMS voting getting boring?

At first glance, it's hard to see what the UK's Channel 4 and Big Brother's producers are worried about. The show is averaging about 5 million viewers per night, and Wednesday's episode attracted 7.1 million, a 40% share. 1,927,189 votes were cast, a 27.1% response rate.

But viewers have logged only about 10.4 million votes (reg req'd) heading into the show's final eviction on Friday night, far short of the 14.2 million cast at the same point in the record-setting 2002 season, which ended up with nearly 23 million votes in total. Though people can also vote via a premium-rate phone number or reverse-billed interactive TV, producers attribute the downturn to the novelty of SMS voting wearing off. The show's interactive revenues, accordingly, have fallen too, at just GBP 2.1 million this year, down from GBP 5 million in 2002.

A Channel 4 spokeswoman told The Guardian "Big Brother 3 was the height of the voting show. Since then it's tailed off a bit," since SMS voting has become so commonplace.

While in 2002, it may have been the height of cool to text in a vote and feel like you were influencing the outcome of a show, the idea has become so hackneyed thanks to its use by nearly every other reality program in the country that it clearly isn't as intriguing as it was just a few years ago.

SMS voting struck a chord because it had some semblance of interactivity, and the show and its producers would do well to evolve the process somehow to rekindle those feelings in viewers. Big Brother's mobile content is pretty bland, standard stuff -- SMS and MMS alerts, a trivia quiz -- apart from 24-hour live video over GPRS. But these media are all essentially one-way, doing nothing to capitalize on and enhance the ideal of Big Brother and all its spawn: that the viewer plays an active role in determining what goes on.

Viewers in any show built on interactivity invest their time in watching and their money in voting, and the Big Brother figures reveal that the act of voting is beginning to lose some of its value in advanced markets. Unless reality-TV producers can figure out a way to give viewers a little more bang for their voting buck, and take advantage of mobile technology as a key aspect, the genre's days may be numbered.