Jeremy Lee on Media: Big Brother's long shadow

The changes heralded by the ground-breaking Channel 4 reality show will outlive its final series.

It probably seemed a good idea at the time - sending a few former housemates around to deliver a wreath in the shape of the Big Brother eye motif to promote the final series of the Channel 4 reality show. However, the bemused indifference of those who actually noticed them arriving in the Marketing office shows how much attitudes have changed.

There was no rush for autographs or mobile pictures as the group stood around awkwardly for a few minutes before shuffling off, presumably to perform the same stunt at a media agency in an attempt to drum up some excitement about the show, which started last week. Sadly, the whole incident passed me by, as I was reading the paper, but apparently one of them was Brian Belo, who won it in 2007; there was also a pair of blonde twins.

It's easy to sneer at Big Brother and its painfully slow death, or ridicule the sort of people who still want to appear on it. It's also easy for armchair sociologists to overstate its cultural significance and hold forth on how it reflects contemporary attitudes to celebrity and voyeurism - indeed, many have managed to make careers out of it.

Yet, in media terms, the Endemol-created show did more than introduce a genre that other broadcasters would go on to exploit to within an inch of its life - it also transformed the way that viewers consume television and how advertisers should use it.

With live streaming of Big Brother on the Channel 4 website, for example, people could, for the first time, watch a TV show on their PC while at work, thus beginning the process of convergence of the two platforms.

For those of us unable to access it, there were running email updates from friends on the comings and goings as 'Nasty Nick' Bateman's attempts to rig the nominations began to unravel.

As well as ensuring that the evening's highlights show became required viewing, this viral spreading of news and opinion prefigured the mainstream social media that have become an integral part of the way in which we watch series such as Britain's Got Talent.

Equally, Channel 4 blazed a trail in the way in which it stripped live coverage of the house on E4, thereby raising the digital channel's profile in a way that is now relatively commonplace for any TV franchise.

While the show taught broadcasters fundamental lessons about scheduling and delivering content across multiple platforms, advertisers were also able to target a mass youth audience regularly with one hit - eviction night became a particularly sought-after slot.

Moreover, at a time when this type of tie-up was reaching its zenith, the series sponsors were able to tailor their marketing to link it with what was going on in the house, rather than just appearing as a bolted-on brand message around the ad breaks.

When Southern Comfort, the first series' sponsor, signed up, it can have had little idea of how successful Big Brother was going to be, and presumably got a good deal as a result. Subsequent partners had to pay for the privilege, with BT Cellnet/O2, Virgin Media and TalkTalk all coughing up.

However, the association was not risk-free, with Carphone Warehouse pulling out over the racist bullying incident in Celebrity Big Brother 5. It is also revealing that the sponsor of this final series is a little-known acne-treatment product called Freederm.

The shelf-life of all TV franchises - including, thank God, BBC stalwart Last of the Summer Wine - is limited, and public appetites change. Yet, the lessons Big Brother has taught us will last longer than the already wilting wreath in the corner of our office.

- Jeremy Lee is associate editor of Marketing. Read his blog at

30 SECONDS ON ... Brian Belo and the Marchant twins

- Brian Belo was born in 1987 in Nigeria and is of aristocratic descent. He grew up with his foster family in Essex.

- Before taking part in Big Brother, he was a data-entry clerk and an avid follower of the show, owning recordings of every episode of the seven previous series.

- He is the youngest-ever winner of Big Brother.

- Since leaving the house, Belo has pursued a media career, which includes numerous TV appearances and credit as a columnist for Heat magazine.

- Sam and Amanda Marchant were born in 1988. They come from Stoke and were both studying social work at Manchester Metropolitan University before they took part in Big Brother.

- For the purpose of nominations and public votes they were treated as a single housemate, finishing second in 2007.

- Shortly after the series ended, Amanda entered into a relationship with Belo which lasted a few months.

- In October 2007, their cover of Aqua's Barbie Girl reached number 26 in the UK charts.

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