Keeping an Eye on Big Brother

Lisa Perrin, the CEO of creative networks for Endemol Shine Group, talks to TV Formats about Big Brother, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month.

It’s a banner year for Big Brother. The show that burst onto the scene as a reality-TV revolution is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month, and after two decades on the air, it’s as fresh and relevant as ever. With 22 productions in 18 markets set to air this year, the format has proven its staying power and continues to go from strength to strength.

“It keeps growing,” says Lisa Perrin, the CEO of creative networks for Endemol Shine Group. “It’s in more countries than ever before. We’ve managed to implant some new tech in it, which means that creatively it’s evolving. It’s really interactive, immersive and cross-generational.” She calls it a “real, true social experiment,” likening it to a “laboratory” where you can examine the human condition.

One of the show’s strongest markets remains the U.S., where it’s currently in its 21st season on CBS and once again continues to be the network’s top-rated summer series. In the Philippines, Pinoy Big Brother is “an online phenomenon,” notes Perrin. The ***Image***format has been on the air in India since 2006, broadcast as Bigg Boss. The long-running Hindi version is set to air its 13th season this month, and there are six regional variations in different languages and dialects in India. In Spain, where it airs as Gran Hermano, the show has been on since its launch in 2000 and is complemented by a 24/7 live stream on YouTube for the first time. In Italy as well, Big Brother is still doing “gangbusters,” says Perrin. “It just keeps on going for us!”

After a period of rest, the format returns this year in Poland, Finland and Germany. “In Poland, it was off for 11 years, and it came back on TVN really successfully—it’s been recommissioned,” Perrin shares. “We were able to modernize it. It’s gone into a house; it has a different look and feels much more real and relatable. We were able to work with the budget that TVN was offering.” ***Image***In Finland, the reboot launched this month and is filmed in an existing location within a shopping mall.

“One of the reasons the show has lasted so long is that it’s eminently adaptable,” says Perrin, highlighting the various spin-offs and celebrity versions. In India, for example, there’s a mix of celebrities and civilians featured together. “Big Brother enables you to put every sort of person in the house, not just somebody who’s young and beautiful,” she adds. “It’s multigenerational, multicultural, and it has always represented the LGBTQ+ community. It’s always been representing what’s going on in society.”

And among the hot topics in society these days are the issues surrounding environmental awareness. Endemol Shine Group has various initiatives addressing this cause and is incorporating sustainable measures in a number of its formats, Big Brother being one. “In Germany, for example, they built the entire set with no plastic,” Perrin explains. “They use real grass instead of AstroTurf, they’ve removed all the rubbish bins, and plastic is banned. All the staff are given refillable bottles; they save something like 12,000 plastic cups by doing this. They’ve bought food and fruit from local and regional shops.” There are green initiatives in a number of versions, including in India and***Image*** Finland. “We challenge all of our territories to think of ways to be more sustainable and how to reflect that in our content. That’s something that the viewers are talking about and it’s really important.”

Alongside the concerted efforts toward more sustainability, diversity and inclusion, the show is now more interactive than ever before. “Gen Z is used to interacting with shows,” Perrin notes. “We feel that audiences expect it, love it and want to interact with content on various different platforms and not just watch it in a linear way. One way can be through viewer votes. Brazil had a record-breaking 202 million votes in one eviction earlier this year. On many of the versions, the audience can interact with decisions made in some way, whether it be a quick online poll or by actually voting. We’re thinking all the time about how to make it very interactive for the viewers.”

Indeed, the Big Brother brand enjoys more than 62.5 million digital followers worldwide across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Also, there are over 7 billion lifetime views across YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

“I do genuinely believe it has changed television forever,” says Perrin. “We feel really optimistic about the show in its 20th year. It is a bedrock of many schedules around the world, and that will stay.” In the format’s next decade, ***Image***she expects the creative renewal to continue, including evolving the tech in the house, exploring YouTube streaming and building on the interactivity. She also foresees it returning year on year in markets where it’s been a persistent presence and more high-profile comebacks on the horizon. “We expect all these big formats to be rested and then they come back. Germany, Poland and Finland are just the first of many where it will return.”

She adds that it’s going to remain important that the show is progressive, “always diverse and reflecting what’s going on in society, be it LGBTQ+ discussions, be it the environmental issues that everybody is talking about. Being aware and reflecting that is how I expect it to evolve in the next ten years, as we evolve in society.”