Seven’s revised programming strategy under James Warburton has seen the network securing proven formats that were no longer on air and rebooting them. It worked well for them this year with both Farmer Wants a Wife and Big Brother.
Below are the top stories from Mediaweek in 2020 about Big Brothers reboot featuring, TV executive Andrew Backwell and Seven’s director of network programming Angus Ross.
Big Brother: How biggest reality format moved from Nine to Seven
The Big Brother format is following TV executive Andrew Backwell around the networks. He oversaw the show during his time at Nine as head of programming and production and he’s now about to see the season launch on Seven where he has been director of production for over 12 months.
The format’s debut on Seven signals the start of Seven’s push into the back half of 2020 and the arrival of new content after returning series My Kitchen Rules and House Rules have led the charge so far this year.
Backwell told Mediaweek he was very much part of the commissioning process for the Big Brother which is about to air on its third network in Australia, with Seven CEO James Warburton making the final decision.
“James very much sees the value in having what we call a big super-brand, one of the biggest reality shows ever,” Backwell told Mediaweek.
So why did Nine let it go several years ago? “At Nine we commissioned it to change the demographic profile of the network. Big Brother did that very successfully.
“That’s one of the reasons we have commissioned it at Seven too. It is very rich demographically and gets a lot of younger viewers.
“Traditionally it was a 16-39-year-old skewing show. What we have done is to make it a 25-54-year-old show. There are a number of things we have done with the format to pitch it to that audience. Part of it is the casting and part of it is the way we have made the show. In former versions when it was younger you would have people sitting around the pool chatting about nothing. Now the whole show moves along at a much quicker pace. Pre-recording gives us control over what goes to air.
“On every single episode there is now a big challenge, a nomination and then an elimination.”
Backwell said today’s TV audience wouldn’t accept a program like Big Brother used to be. “People consume TV much faster and they like it to be much slicker. Endemol Shine has done a fantastic job reinventing the format. It is still Big Brother, but it offers much more than it ever has.”
Endemol Shine were part-way through the shoot for Seven when social distancing laws came into force. But it didn’t slow things down for long. “Production stopped for a few days before we started with social distancing regulations in place for the crew.”
For the cast it wasn’t really an issue. “Because they went into the house before any lockdown they were ok. Being completely isolated in the Big Brother house was probably one of the safest places in Australia. We had to be a lot more careful with the crew coming in and out of the control room rather than the contestants in the house.”
A key attraction on the new Big Brother for Seven is Endemol Shine executive producer Amelia Fisk who is also the EP of Australian Survivor. “She has worked in the UK on Big Brother,” said Backwell. “She knows and loves the format. When Endemol Shine pitched the project she was attached to it. What we liked about her was her understanding of Big Brother, her love for the format and that she had made Survivor. She did a great job on Survivor which looked very slick. We wanted her to bring those production values to Big Brother along with her understanding of Big Brother and what the audience expect from the show. That was one of the reasons we decided to commission it.”
Each episode of Big Brother now takes place over several days with Endemol Shine being able to control the storytelling and the pace.
How to win $250,000
Backwell’s tip to housemates is not to overthink it. “There is a lot of gameplay, but you really need to be yourself.” Backwell said there could be some twists with how the money is won. “The whole amount will be given away, but not necessarily at the end of the show.”
Same head of production, same host too
“Sonia Kruger is an absolute star,” said Backwell about Kruger who was also the host of Big Brother when he oversaw the format for Nine. “It is the perfect format for her and we are so impressed with her performance. Sonia understands that audience tastes have changed over the years. One of the things that have changed in reality TV is that production values are very high and the storytelling is very slick.”
The voice of Big Brother
The voice of Big Brother is not (yet) a celebrity. Backwell told Mediaweek it was a voice-over artist secured by Endemol Shine.
The next Big Brother radio star
Will more “regular” contestants mean fewer former housemates looking for breakfast radio jobs next year? “We have tried to cast it with a cross-section of society. The common factor is they are all competitive and they want to win Big Brother, they are not there to get Instagram followers.”
Don’t expect to see couples making out!
Network FTA primetime is now mostly all about wholesome values with nothing too edgy going to air. “We have been very careful to make this a family show,” said Backwell. “There is nothing we will broadcast that would stop viewers watching it with their children. That is one of the advantages of having a pre-recorded season.”
Seven’s ratings revival: Angus Ross on Big Brother’s big difference
Seven was expecting the arrival of Big Brother would make a big difference, especially after the disappointing performance of My Kitchen Rules and then House Rules to start the year.
The product mix of what Big Brother delivered has combined well with Seven’s best other assets.
“We certainly had the bricks in the wall,” Seven’s director of network programming Angus Ross told Mediaweek. “We have the #1 news, #1 sport plus Sunrise and Home and Away doing well. We had spoken about the need to improve our 7.30pm tentpole performance.
“Big Brother represents the first step to make Seven more outward focussed in terms of its commissions. And we are looking at established and proven formats for those tentpoles rather than creating our own IP. It can be a very difficult thing to achieve and quite a stressful process…I am now an 80-year-old in a 40-year-old body!”
When Seven got it right regarding building a format, as it did with My Kitchen Rules, the results were impressive, but not everything struck gold.
Ross said Big Brother was the channel’s biggest new series launch in two years. “Within the space of a week it has changed our demographic profile completely. We are clean-sweeping everything – 25-54, 18-49 and 16-39. It has given us the best 16-39 result in 10 years.
“To put that in context it is a bigger show than I’m a Celebrity, Survivor, Amazing Race or The Bachelor. And it is beating The Voice too in some key demos.”
As well as the broadcast result, Ross noted it is the most talked about show on social and the biggest in the streaming space. “Each episode is adding in excess of 200,000 viewers to our 7plus service. We are looking at another record month for 7plus which has been leading the BVOD space for three months and I can’t see that leadership stopping anytime soon.”
Ross said 7plus is attracting audience for broadcast hits (including dramas like 9-1-1 and The Good Doctor) and classic Australian drama. “When we have something like Big Brother arrive on the platform it becomes the icing on the cake for 7plus.”
Seven picked up the Big Brother franchise after Nine decided not to renew the option it had on the format. “Much kudos to the production team at Endemol Shine Australia – Mark and Carl Fennessy, Peter Newman and Amelia Fisk. They pitched us a version of the show for 2020 and they have delivered. None of us believed that the original Big Brother format could return. It had been cancelled twice in this marketplace. The reboot really had to work at attracting a new audience. It has evolved and has the storytelling techniques the marketplace now demands. They have delivered that in spades.”