Big Brother feels the heat of Hell's Kitchen

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The Independent Online

Viewing figures for the fifth series of Big Brother have nose-dived - sparking speculation that the bubble has burst for the reality show.

Viewing figures for the fifth series of Big Brother have nose-dived - sparking speculation that the bubble has burst for the reality show.

Audience numbers since the show went on air last Friday have been consistently lower than the same time last year. The programme is also being trounced by ITV's rival reality show Hell's Kitchen featuring fiery celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. The housemates failed to pull in the viewers when the two programmes went head to head at the weekend.

On Sunday night, just 3.7 million watched Big Brother, a drop of 600,000 compared with the show's first Sunday in 2003, while Gordon Ramsay pulled in 4.9 million viewers.

But Channel 4 has greeted the drop in audience with equanimity, pointing out that the average audience so far is 4.5 million with a 22 per cent audience share - the same as the overall average rating for the last series.

Only 4.3 million people tuned in to watch the twelve Big Brother housemates between 10pm and 10.30pm on Tuesday night, just one fifth of the television watching audience. On the same night last year, 5 million viewers, nearly a quarter of the audience, watched the show. The opening of Big Brother last Friday also proved less popular than a year ago, despite inheriting a record-breaking 8.6 million audience from the final episode of Friends. The arrival of the 12 contestants was watched by 6.7 million, 200,000 fewer viewers than the first night in 2003.

Gill Hudson, the editor of Radio Times, thinks Big Brother will struggle this year against events such as Euro 2004 and Wimbledon. "We know the format now. It's very familiar and it feels much more forced ... I just wonder if the nation's interests are going to be elsewhere, given what a cracking summer of sport we've got. It's going to have to be damn good and really exciting."

Mark Frith, the editor of the celebrity weekly Heat magazine, believes that Big Brother is still going strong. "This is a show that pulls in about double what Channel 4 normally gets in that slot. It's still real event TV, it's still what everybody's talking about. It's a concept that's got legs," he said.

Channel 4 bosses have devised new ways to generate interest in Big Brother 5, including making the house where the contestants are trapped much smaller and more claustrophobic.

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