RealTime IT News

Watching Big Brother 24/7

UPDATED: They used to say, "Big Brother is watching you." But now, you can watch "Big Brother," the TV show, all day and all night. Literally.

CBS and Real Networks announced plans to continue their partnership for the fifth year, letting fans of the reality show access live Web cams trained on the housemates of "Big Brother 6."

Real will host a live video channel that lets subscribers peep into their doings 24 hours a day. Fans can even choose "quad view" that lets them keep an eye on all four cameras at once.

The broadcaster's digital arm is positioned as an extension of the on-air brand. "We like to create extra features, so when the television show is not on the air, [fans] have somewhere else to go, or if they've missed, something they have for a recap," said Brinley Turner, vice president and general manager of CBS.com.

David Eckoff, a senior director of products at Real, said "Big Brother" is unique among reality shows because it's filmed concurrently with the broadcast, so the Web video feed is truly live TV. "You never know what you're going to see when you're watching live TV," he said. "That's one of the things that makes this product so special: It's what is not on television."

Such Internet-enabled programming brings an added dimension to the TV experience, said Yankee Group analyst Patrick Mahoney. "It fosters the ability to interact with the fans on an on-demand basis. We're seeing that entertainment in general is moving toward an on-demand approach," he said.

The Web channel goes live on Thursday, July 7, following the East Coast broadcast of the season premier. It will be accessible through the official "Big Brother 6" Web site and through a special area within RealNetworks' SuperPass subscription service Web site. Those for whom one broadcast a week is not enough can choose either a three-month subscription for $29.99 or a monthly subscription of $12.99 per month.

"This is a product unlike some other reality TV shows, where they take some clips and put the on the Web," Eckoff said. "This product is so good, we sell it to consumers on a subscription basis."

Turner of CBS.com said reality shows especially lend themselves to the multi-channel treatment. "'Big Brother' fans have an even larger appetite for these features and the footage they'll see through the live stream. There's a romantic notion when you watch TV that it could be you -- you could be on the program," Turner said. "When we give fans the live feeds, it's a step closer to being a part of the show."

"Big Brother 6" takes full advantage of Internet media. As each contestant takes a weekly turn at being "head of household," he or she will blog about the experience on CBS.com and post digital photos on the blog. Previous contestants also will blog about the current season. The network's Web site also is home to a half-hour streaming video talk show that chews over the week's in-house events.

"The blogs are giving 'the audience online and at home another voice to listen to," Turner said.

Also on Wednesday, Nickelodeon, the television programming and production company, announced TurboNick, a streaming video service on its Nick.com Web site. TurboNick unites the Internet with video-on-demand via cable with wireless content including ringtones and video clips.

TurboNick will feature up to 20 hours of new programming each week, including all-new programs, 30-second clips, classic shows and that season's programming. The service officially launches July 17; Nickelodeon said that following its soft launch on July 1, it had shown 125 million streams.

The network plans to roll out two more broadband video initiatives. Nick Jr. Parents TV will feature parenting content and activities grownups can do with kids. A new version of Nick Jr. Video for preschoolers will launch on August 10, featuring video clips and interstitials such as music videos.

According to Yankee's Mahoney, consumers haven't yet begun to send streaming video from the PC to the TV; instead, we've gotten used to watching on smaller screens.

"There's a strong attractiveness to accessing content anywhere from any device," Mahoney said. "As people are increasingly mobile, there's an increasing desire to access your content from work or on the go."

Broadband access is another driver of video on the PC.

According to Forrester Research, U.S. broadband penetration will reach 50 percent by the end of 2005. The research firm found that, at the end of 2004, 13 percent of broadband customers were downloading video, while 25 percent were viewing streaming video online.

In the same time period, around 50 percent of broadband consumers played online video games, and Mahoney said gamers' behavior is a good predictor of mainstream consumers'. "You can expect that by the end of this year, viewing video online will be more in 40 to 50 percent range."