Global Media Format: “Big Brother”

This blog talks about Big Brother’s sweeping success globally and in the Philippines.

The ability of television products to be transported and consumed by a unique set of audiences has been recognized since the early importation of canned programs and success of cable programming. In fact, this had previously been the form in which television shows travelled physically from one source country to another. But in the last decade or so, what the public witnessed was the global adaptation of television format, a “set of services or franchised knowledge”, which by nature can easily be indigenized for local consumption (Moran, 2004).

This advantage has been so far enjoyed by some European television companies such as Endemol, the creator of hit reality formats like Fear Factor, Deal or No Deal, Wipeout, and the phenomenal Big Brother. Endemol is one of the largest independent format distributors in the world headquartered in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.  The company has built a good reputation in distribution and franchise management, launching over 50 new formats every year and distributing about 29,000 hours of media content in several parts of the globe such as Europe, Latin America, United States, Middle East, Africa and Asia, according to its website. Its flagship format, Big Brother, was first aired on Dutch commercial channel Veronica in 1999. It is described by some scholars as a hybrid performance genre that combines games, drama and documentary created to maximize audience appeal (Mathijs &Jones, 2004). Being an international format, Big Brother has standard global features. In the show, the public are given an access to watch a group of strangers who agree to live in a house for a period of time. The contestants live without communication with the outside world and are voted off every week until one person remains and becomes the winner (Johnson-Woods, 2001). The producers allow the audience to decide the fate of the contestants by texting and casting their votes online and by telephone. During their stay, contestants are required to follow the rules of Big Brother and to actively participate in weekly assignments.

Format owners also provide training for producing the show, giving local producers an overview of what worked and what did not work in other countries. Furthermore, local producers are also given a programme bible and should be followed insofar as license agreement is concerned. The programme bible compiles important production notes such as the “demographic and ratings information, programme scripts, off-air videotapes of broadcast programmes, film or video footage, computer software and graphics, and production consultancy services” (Keane & Moran, 2013). According to Roscoe (2004) it sets a blueprint for an international brand and is therefore a reflection of a globalized culture. Because of this, national variations signify commonalities in terms of look, treatment and general features of the show. Although the programme bible sets the standards to be observed, local producers are also given some leeway to indigenize content in order to maximize the audience.

Pinoy Big Brother House [Wikipedia photo courtesy of Jruoy15 ]

In Southeast Asia particularly, Big Brother was first franchised in 2005 by Kantana Group, a television company based in Thailand and had enjoyed success, drawing a large number of audience. The show was perceived by the Thai audience in positive and negative ways; some approving the behaviour, gestures and attitudes of housemates, while others found the show unsuitable for consumption (Tananuraksakul, 2008). In the same year, its Filipino version, Pinoy Big Brother was launched by ABS-CBN, one of the leading television companies in the Philippines. This makes the country the 31st home of the reality show, but unlike Big Brother Thailand with only two series, ABS-CBN has so far aired 10 Big Brother seasons from 2005 to 2012, composed of regular, celebrity, and teenager editions.

The audience response from audition to the final eviction night of each Pinoy Big Brother edition has been overwhelming. The first set of housemates in the 2005 edition was chosen from a total of 25,000 applicants. Apart from this, Pinoy Big Brother also made world record history during its first finale night when it gained around 1.5 million text votes in favour of the Big Winner. This was the highest number of text votes at that time, among the Big Brother versions all over the world (Torrevillas, 2005). The success of Big Brother relies mostly on the interactive and participatory nature of the program by allowing the public to decide on the fate of the housemates, a power that is not normally given to Filipino audience. In addition, it is important to note that during this time, primetime programming in the majority of Philippine channels was mostly dominated by game shows, soap operas and Filipino-made reality challenge shows which treated the audience as mere receivers of television content. Therefore, a move to air a localized version of Big Brother in a prime time has challenged the traditional consumption habits of Filipinos and opened opportunities for the public to participate in decision-making.


Johnson-Woods, T. (2001).  Big Brother: Why did that reality-tv show become such a phenomenon? St. Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press.

Mathijs, E. & Janet J. (2004) Big Brother international: Formats, critics and publics. London: Wallflower Press.

Moran, A. (2004). Makeover on the move: Global television and programme formats. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 22(4), 459-469.

Tananuraksakul, N. (2013). Glocal: Big Brother phenomenon in Thailand. NEO: Journal for higher degree research students in the social sciences and humanities: 1-12.

Torrevillas, D. (2013. Pinoy Big Brother. The Philippine Star. 20 October 2005



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