Big Brother has dwindling viewers and voters

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The Independent Online

Big Brother may be watching you - but are you still watching Big Brother?

Perhaps not. This year, 40 per cent fewer votes have been cast than last time - and audiences are down by about eight per cent.

"Big Brother has hit the reef," David Elstein, former chief executive of Channel Five, said. "I think we have seen the peak."

During the first four weeks of the show, 3.87m eviction votes were registered, down from 6.5m during the same period last year. Audiences have averaged 4.3m for weeks three to four; the same period last year garnered 4.7m viewers.

As we pass the halfway mark of the fourth series, has the bubble burst? "There will be more reality shows, but commissioning editors will be more nervous of them. We will come to the moment when people have had their fill of reality," Mr Elstein said.

This series has thrown forward no Nasty Nick - the semi-toff who cheated and got kicked out of the house - or Jade, whose amusing IQ level was revealed by her observation: "East Angular? That's abroad. Near Tunisia."

Though the tabloids have paid respectful attention to the programme, they have not devoted nearly as many column inches as they once did. Mr Elstein said: "There are not enough interesting people this time, and not enough sex."

But the show is not on its last legs. Big Brother "is currently Channel 4's best performing show by a mile", Tom Sutcliffe, The Independent's television reviewer, said.

Despite the drop in viewers, Big Brother still brings in more than twice the average 2m viewers expected at 10pm.

"If you've got on Channel 4 an audience of 4.4m, which is slowly losing altitude, you have got a hell of a long way to go before you crash-land," Mr Sutcliffe said. Peter Bazalgette, chairman of Endemol UK, the makers of Big Brother, said: "This is the second most successful series Channel 4 has ever had. The most successful was Big Brother three."

Steven Barnett, professor of communications at Westminster University, predicts "three or four years" forBig Brother. More than 40 per cent of the audience is aged between 16 and 34, and the show is "still an integral part of youth culture", he said. "It is not meant for old wrinklies like me."

THE BIG SWITCH OFF

Average viewing figures for weeks 3-4

2003...............4.3million

2002...............4.7m

2001...............4.0 m

Votes cast in first four weeks of contest

2003...............3.87m

2002...............6.5m

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