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EDITIONS
Friday, 24 May, 2002, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Taking charge of Big Brother
Darren and Craig confront Nick in a classic moment from Big Brother 1
Could viewers one day influence contestants?

Big Brother's producers insist it was no more than coincidence that its latest series was unveiled to the press on the same day much of England voted in local elections.

Appallingly low turnout among young people has been contrasted with the success of Channel 4's flagship reality show, which allows viewers to have their say in who stays in the famous Big Brother house.

Now Channel 4 is hoping Big Brother's new series will continue to lead the way in giving viewers real control over their TV.

The station estimates more than five million out of the 16 million votes cast last year were made using remote controls for digital television.

What Big Brother has done is turn the essentially passive experience of sitting at home watching telly into something else

Peter Grimsdale
Channel 4
This year, voting will be expanded to include text messages for the first time, an innovation much vaunted by some politicians as a way of getting out the youth vote in elections.

Continuing the electoral theme, E4 viewers will be able to take part in Big Brother opinion polls as well as betting on who will be evicted using their remotes.

Peter Grimsdale, Channel 4's head of cross-platform programming, told BBC News Online politics could follow the example of Big Brother.

"Everybody in politics is wondering about the future of voting.

"What Big Brother has done is turn the essentially passive experience of sitting at home watching telly into something else."

Attention spans

He said Big Brother's interactive elements had their antecedents in shows like the BBC's Crimewatch, where viewers could "influence the narrative of the show by helping to catch criminals".

Mr Grimsdale said interactivity was necessary to fight short attention spans on both reality shows and in politics.

"People are just more ruthless with how they spend the time. They are increasingly opting for shopping online.

Big Brother 3
Big Brother is more interactive than ever
"If you could text your vote instead of going all the way down to some school, into a polling booth, which is quite a time consuming experience when you have made up your mind, you know what you are going to do.

"To make that possible is fabulous and probably in the end will help democracy."

As well as watching 24-hour coverage on digital E4, Big Brother fanatics can keep up via a subscription streaming service - costing 9.99 a month - or free clips and news on the website, together with news updates to their mobile, e-mail updates, and a weekly newsletter.

The improved website also features an audio channel and a panoramic tour of the house.

And if all this is too much for for technophobic fans, they can still just watch Channel 4's highlights and vote by phone.

Fans' expectations

The show has even taken the first tentative step towards ordinary viewers controlling what aspects they want to watch "live".

Digital viewers will be able to choose between two different mixed feeds from the house on Channel 4's E4.

And while technology is still as much of a limitation as taste and regulations, fans will inevitably expect more choice and more control for Big Brother 4, should it go ahead next year.

The people at programme producers Endemol and at Channel 4 are wary of suggesting any future where viewers could control the cameras, or even influence what happened to the contestants while they were still in the house.

But that really would be Big Brother.

BBC News Online's coverage of Big Brother 2002


A closer look

Contestant profiles

FROM THE ARCHIVE

FROM CBBC NEWSROUND

HAVE YOUR SAY

Launch the Gallery

The Big Brother 12


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