Channel 4 to ditch Big Brother reality show

LONDON Wed Aug 26, 2009 1:23pm BST

Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty (C) poses with Celebrity Big Brother housemate Danielle Lloyd (L) and sister Shamita Shetty before the world premiere of ''Life in a.. Metro'' at the Empire cinema in London's Leicester Square, May 8, 2007. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty (C) poses with Celebrity Big Brother housemate Danielle Lloyd (L) and sister Shamita Shetty before the world premiere of ''Life in a.. Metro'' at the Empire cinema in London's Leicester Square, May 8, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Luke MacGregor

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Channel 4 said on Wednesday it was ditching the once-popular "Big Brother" reality television series amid falling ratings for this year's show.

Launched in Britain in 2000, the show in which the public votes to evict contestants from a house and garden where they are continuously filmed made celebrities out of Jade Goody and "Nasty" Nick Bateman.

It was at the centre of a major broadcasting scandal in 2007, when contestant Jade Goody was accused of racist bullying of Indian housemate Shilpa Shetty, prompting tens of thousands of complaints and dominating the headlines.

Goody was evicted in a public vote and Bollywood actress Shetty went on to win the series.

Some commentators said Big Brother, owned by a consortium comprising Goldman Sachs Capital Partners, Italy's Mediaset Group and Cyrte Group, never fully recovered from the race row, after which they said it was "watered down."

Others believed the show had grown stale and failed to win over the "Facebook generation" of young viewers more likely to find their entertainment on the Internet.

Estimates show that around two million people have been tuning in to the latest Big Brother series, the 10th -- a fraction of its peak audience of 10 million.

Even bookmakers have felt the effect, with gambling on the outcome of this year's show down 75 percent on 2008, according to William Hill.

Endemol suggested in a statement that it may seek a deal with another broadcaster: "As for 2011, stay tuned. Big Brother will get back to you ..."

TIME TO MOVE ON

Kevin Lygo, director of television and content at Channel 4, said next year's series of "Celebrity Big Brother" and "Big Brother" would be the last on the network.

"Big Brother is still profitable for Channel 4 despite its reduced popularity and there could have been the option to renew it on more favourable terms," he said in a statement.

"That's what a purely commercial broadcaster would have done, but Channel 4 has a public remit to champion new forms of creativity.

"The programme (Big Brother) has reached a natural end point on Channel 4 and it's time to move on."

Lygo said dropping Big Brother would not solve the company's funding shortfalls, adding that the channel had nearly 125 million pounds less to spend in 2009 than two years ago. Next year may be even worse, he added.

"However ... the significant sums that have been committed to Big Brother in the past should now be available to boost budgets in genres such as drama that have had to be cut back sharply during the downturn."

Channel 4 said original drama spending would be boosted by 20 million pounds from 2011.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Steve Addison)

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