Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Big Brother: Not All Formats Are Created Equal

You may be thinking to yourself: why does it matter what causes a TV show’s success?  That is an excellent question-glad you asked!  For countries that share the same values and norms as the program’s country of origin, it actually may not be that important.  They can most likely assume that what draws the foreign audience will also attract their domestic audience.  But what about countries that reject what Western viewers enjoy? What if the aspects of Big Brother that attract Western audiences are the very aspects that will repel their domestic viewers?  This is exactly the issue that Bahrain experienced when they attempted to air an Arabic version of Big Brother.

Television programs provide viewers with a picture of a society’s culture, values, and ideals.  With the ability to stream TV shows online, the Internet has allowed people from all over the world to catch a glimpse into the lives of people abroad without even having to leave their couch (not to mention save a ton on a overseas plane ticket).  However, creating these programs requires access to a variety of resources and funds; access that is not equal across the globe. 

It’s no secret that the United States and European countries have dominated the media industry.  The access these countries have to the necessary resources and funds is seemingly endless.  Due to this unfair reality, countries abroad sometimes observe which programs are popular in the Western countries and purchase the program’s format to adapt for their country.  While this solution sometimes helps less fortunate countries economically, it also presents an issue: if the format goes against a country’s central values, how likely is it to succeed?  In order to further examine this question, let’s take a look at the show Big Brother ‘s journey around the globe, and focus on its short-lived air in the Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain.

Big Brother, originating in the Netherlands, is a reality television show in which a group of men and women live together in a house (some of you probably know where this is going).  They are not allowed to leave and are under constant surveillance through the use of in-house cameras (terrifying thought for most).  The name of the show comes from the group of producers who monitor the contestants and assign them housework and tasks, as well as games and challenges.  Throughout the season, contestants are “evicted” from the house until there is one remaining houseguest who wins a large amount of prize money.  Despite many, probably obvious ethical uncertainties (like privacy) the TV show was an enormous hit and the format was sold to many countries across the globe that hoped to experience the same financial success as the countries that aired the show before them.

The reason for the success of the show is widely debated (Hill, 323).  For Western audiences, it’s no surprise that sex is a huge attractor; men and women living in a house together, not allowed to leave…sexual tension seems almost inevitable.  And being stuck in a house with the same people for an extended amount of time can become a bit irritating. The resulting conflict is another attention grabber. Some viewers also tune-in for the challenge of determining what parts of the show are realities, and what parts the producers set up.

All of these factors are an American producer’s dream! Sex?! Conflict?! Shut up and take my money.  And as it turns out, it was a hit in the U.S., along with an outrageous number of other countries. However, when Bahrain attempted to realize the same success, there was a bit of a different reaction.

Being the tiny nation that it is, Bahrain went to Saudi Arabia for “permission” to air the show. Although Saudi Arabia advised against it, they allowed them to air Big Brother with the conditions that it will not be shot in Saudi Arabia and the cast members must be separate at all times besides a main room. Although there was much anticipation for this controversial program, it only remained on air for only 11 days.

Though there are different opinions on why the show was not successful, one that cannot be denied is the fact that the show itself went against everything the citizens and government value. The sexual tension and conflict are not attractive qualities for a reality show in the Arabic region.  Not only can they not relate to the show, many of the viewers were outraged. The show prompted riots by citizens who were upset about the content that was being presented to the public.

In a growing global environment, it’s easy to assume what is successful in your country will be successful in ot  But one must consider all of the things that make each country individual: religions, languages, values, beliefs, etc. If these do not align, it is likely a program will be resisted.  Formatting offers a great alternative for countries that may not have the funds to create domestic programming.  And for countries that have already realized economic success from programming, selling the format is just an added bonus.  However, as the case of Big Brother has illustrated, if the domestic country wants to sell their format, they need to be sure that it can be altered enough to appeal to the foreign population. And on the same token, foreign countries need to be conscious of the tastes and preferences of their people and make sure that those align with what they are purchasing.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.