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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Big Brother is a woman
Big Brother
Reality shows give viewers a sense of control
Big Brother appeals to viewers who want to feel they are in control, says a researcher studying the reality television show.

And the programme's biggest fans are more likely to be women than men.

Janet Jones, a lecturer in communications at the University of Aberystwyth, is examining the programme as part of her PhD studies in interactive television.

As part of the project, a questionnaire has been attached to the Big Brother official website, which will give researchers an insight into what makes this electronic goldfish bowl so addictive to so many viewers.

And she says that she has received 14,000 questionnaire returns in 24 hours, which she says is "symptomatic of the craze surrounding Big Brother".

Among the show's most ardent fans, who might use the associated website and mobile phone services, she says about 65% are women.

Addicts

In the show's audience on Channel 4, in the programme's edited form, about 60% of the audience is female.

And among these are people who "find it very hard to tear themselves away from the programme - and they're sending back questionnaires at three in the morning".

A key factor in holding the audience's attention is the sense of empowerment, says Janet Jones.

The continuous access through a digital channel and the internet and the ability to influence the outcome by voting gives viewers feelings of control, she says.

Viewers also say they like the apparent "ordinariness" of the Big Brother setting and the mundanity of the conversation, compared with more exotically-located shows such as Survivor.

Feelgood

There could also be an underlying psychological appeal, she says, with some research suggesting that such programmes can give people a feelgood factor associated with making friends.

The appeal to women rather than men could reflect differences in how the sexes approach television, she says, with women more likely to engage with stories about relationships which are stretched over a long period of time.

Janet Jones says that the emergence of the reality show has been the culmination of a long-running trend in factual programmes.

In the Nineties, viewers increasingly turned away from traditional documentaries towards the "docu-soaps", which built programmes around everyday dramas and real people.

Big Brother and other similar shows have taken this a step further, with viewers apparently able to interact with the struggles of "real" people that become well-known to the audience.

See also:

18 Jun 02 | Entertainment
24 May 02 | Entertainment
24 May 02 | Entertainment
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