Channel 5’s Frow: Savings from ‘Big Brother’ cancellation didn’t go the distance

Channel 5 director of programmes Ben Frow has called the cancellation of Big Brother a “liberation”, but has noted that the savings did not go “as far as he liked”.

Speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Frow reiterated his views on the long-running Initial-produced reality programme, noting that it was “time to lose the show”, which came with a lofty price-tag for the channel.

“In terms of our reputation, the schedule, trying new things and [our] evolution, it was important to face a future without something that was taking up 17 weeks of the year,” he said.

However, the outspoken exec was upfront about the fact that the savings expected from cancelling the show have not gone the distance.

“The Big Brother money didn’t go as far as I thought it would,” he said.

Asked where the money did go by interviewer Grace Dent, Frow said that “some of the money went to the bottom line. It’s very tough out there – the advertising market is brutal and Brexit is a big concern for us, frankly.”

Ben Frow

The exec added that the business “decided to put more money into more drama than we ever thought we were going to do” and added that the channel has also been more ambitious with its factual programming.

Frow said at the 2017 Edinburgh TV Festival that Endemol had a “gun to his head” around renegotiations for Big Brother, and publicly welcomed alternative entertainment pitches from the UK indie sector.

Channel 5 went on to cancel the programme last September.

Frow also addressed the Viacom-owned channel’s first forays into drama – a drive Frow is leading alongside commissioner Sebastian Cardwell – noting the wave of interest it has garnered from the local production community.

The channel has been clear from the start that it will pursue a low-cost scripted strategy that veers away from million-pound dramas. Despite coups such as a recent All Creatures Great And Small adaptation, Frow joked that the approach has had mixed results.

“Sometimes we make the drama and then look at the ending and go, ‘Not sure this works’ and we say, ‘How much do you need for additional recording?’” he laughed.

The exec added that the channel is strategic with drama scheduling and will “never play drama when BBC or ITV are doing a drama because that would be suicide. You have to avoid the juggernauts.”