Orange scraps plans to sponsor 'Big Brother'

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The Independent Online

Orange has pulled out of talks to replace Carphone Warehouse as sponsors of the reality television show Big Brother after its staff opposed the potential deal.

Orange was approached by Channel 4 to sponsor the show after Carphone Warehouse dropped its £3m-a-year sponsorship following the alleged bullying of the Indian actress Shilpa Shetty during the celebrity version of the series in January. The media regulator Ofcom is still investigating allegations of racism related to the controversy after more than 40,000 viewers complained about the show.

Orange decided to gauge the reaction of its 12,000 UK employees to the potential sponsorship of the eighth series of the reality show. Its staff strongly opposed the deal, feedback that was taken into consideration when the mobile phone operator turned down the offer.

An Orange spokesman said: "We asked our staff what they thought about sponsoring Big Brother as we like to get them involved in the decisions their company makes. In this case, the majority of our staff felt that we shouldn't sponsor Big Brother. Having taken this into consideration and having evaluated it further with our sponsorship team, we have declined this opportunity."

A variety of other companies have been linked with the sponsorship deal, with Phones4U, Carphone Warehouse's main rival in the mobile phone retail sector, the deodorant spray manufacturer Lynx, and Toyota, the Japanese car maker, all rumoured to be interested. Channel 4 has said there is still significant interest from a number of high-profile names despite the controversy.

Big Brother still garners high ratings figures. Around 7.3 million people watched Ms Shetty win the celebrity version of the show in January, while the opening night of last year's series attracted a record 8.1 million viewers. This year's series is due to begin in late May.

Endemol, the company that produces Big Brother as well as the hit quiz show Deal or No Deal, has been put up for sale by its parent company Telefonica, the Spanish telecoms giant. It has emerged that the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's television company Mediaset is backing a bid by the company's founder John de Mol to buy the production company.