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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 20:55 GMT
The pulling power of Big Brother
By Torin Douglas
Media correspondent, BBC News

How will Big Brother's production company Endemol and other companies fare in light of the reality TV "racism" row?

"Endemol must be unable to believe their luck. The prime minister, the chancellor and the leader of the opposition - all in one day. You can't buy that publicity."

Jade Goody
Goody has been at the centre of rows in the Big Brother house

So ran an e-mail to me from a distinguished TV producer this week, as politicians queued to condemn Celebrity Big Brother.

He had been in the eye of similar storms and knew from experience the power of political outrage to boost a programme's ratings.

You might think advertisers and sponsors would feel the same. Surely anything which boosts audiences - particularly when TV ratings are in general decline - would be welcomed with open arms?

Yet Carphone Warehouse suspended its long-running sponsorship of the programme this week, just as the publicity reached one of its peaks.

It said its concern had mounted about "the broadcast behaviour of individuals within the house" and it had already warned Channel 4 it would have to consider its position.

Bob Wootton, director of media at the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, said the decision was understandable because it would be concerned about its brand image.

"A company will sponsor a programme because it wants to improve its reputation amongst a particular target audience. If a programme takes a particular turn - as a live reality programme can - suddenly the benefit of that association can turn very quickly to detriment," he said.

Call me cynical, but I think they [Endemol] must be loving this
Bob Wootton
Incorporated Society of British Advertisers

Cynics have suggested that the company has attracted greater publicity as a result of pulling out - like those which stopped using Kate Moss after her cocaine incident, but later returned in even greater numbers.

How many people could have named the Big Brother sponsor before this week's outcry?

But Mr Wootton doesn't think the company was seeking more exposure by withdrawing.

He points out that, under British TV regulations, sponsors are not allowed to influence programming, which is why Channel 4 would have been unwilling to respond to the warning from Carphone Warehouse.

"We have one of the most sophisticated commercial broadcasting systems in the world here and some of the most sophisticated rules to govern it," he said.

Shilpa Shetty
Shetty's treatment has been big news in India

"They make sure there is no commercial influence over programming so those conversations, even if they could have taken place, would have been extremely stilted."

Even though Channel 4 is losing its sponsorship - at least for the time being - Mr Wootton points out that there are many other ways it profits from Big Brother.

"It is an amazing money-making machine because every single touch point that Big Brother has with its target audience makes money - the text messaging, the spin-off competitions and so on.

And remember Big Brother is not just the Channel 4 show but is run virtually continuously on its extension channels on digital TV.

"And of course the audience is going to increase as a result of this notoriety and Channel 4 will be able to monetize that from their wide range of advertisers."

As for Endemol, the programme's producers, Mr Wootton agrees with the TV producer who sent me the e-mail: "Call me cynical, but I think they must be loving this because it draws attention to them as a major producer and I understand that Big Brother isn't in India at the moment.

"What a fantastic export market. Even though there are pictures of people burning effigies and stuff - what a launch pad to move into one of the biggest emerging markets in the world."

Jade Goody apologises for her behaviour

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