Five Getting Cut-Price ‘Big Brother’ Bargain

Richard Desmond, new owner of Channel 5, could pay as little as £20 million ($30 million) for the reality show, one insider tells me. Desmond wants the Endemol show to transfer from Channel 4, where it ended its 11th series this week, to his new Channel 5. Channel 4 paid £60-65 million in a three-year deal for the Big Brother rights from Endemol. Like Desmond’s audacious £103.5 million swoop on Channel Five, it’s not as if there are any other bidders out there. Big Brother has been getting average daily ratings of 2.5 million – an all-time low for the reality show on Channel 4 – and would probably get 1.5-2 million daily on Channel 5. That is still healthy for a channel whose top-rated daily show, Aussie soap Neighbours, gets around 1.5 million viewers.

Even more important is the audience Big Brother attracts. Channel Five doesn’t need any more downmarket, older viewers. They’re the easiest to attract because they spend all day watching TV at home. The hardest market for advertisers are young, upmarket audiences, the demographic which watches the least TV — which Big Brother delivered in droves when it first launched. Media commentator Steve Hewlett tells me: “I can see the commercial logic for Desmond wanting Big Brother if it has any life left in it. The show still has a commercial value in the marketplace because of its audience.”

Desmond has talked publicly about how he wants the show. He teamed up with show producer Endemol with a plan to mount a joint bid for Channel Five. Endemol maintains the standing set of the Big Brother house in Elstree, Hertfordshire, and the show employs a large dedicated staff. Closing down the house and moving staff elsewhere would be costly, so Endemol will need a quick decision if the show is to re-launch on Channel Five in 2011. Desmond’s daily tabloid the Daily Star has an umbilical relationship with the show, often splashing a Big Brother headline over other stories. He could start cross-selling ads on the paper and the TV show. It may seem like a tired cast-off from another channel, but Desmond believes there’s life in the format yet.

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