Survivor and Big Brother: The Legacy and Future of Two Reality Juggernauts
BY Yako Molhov
If you think reality television, there are two shows that will always come to mind first – Survivor and Big Brother. This is more than natural because the two formats literally created the reality genre in the late 1990s and still remain among the most popular brands on television and streaming platforms across the world.

Lucas Green, Chief Content Officer, Operations, Banijay, talks with Yako Molhov about the shows’ legacy and future in this exclusive interview for TVBIZZ Magazine.
Australian Survivor All Stars
Banijay distributes two of the most-popular and watched TV formats in the world - Survivor and Big Brother. In September, the two shows started their 26th and 24th year on air since their respective premieres – two milestones in television history. To what do you attribute their longevity and astounding successes that continue to date around the world?
Both Survivor and Big Brother launched at the turn of the century and were instrumental in shaping the genre of reality TV. These shows are pillars of the Banijay catalog, and their longevity and number of commissions speak for themselves.

From its first launch in Sweden in 1997, Survivor has travelled the world, entertaining huge audiences. The leading adventure-reality format, it remains fresh with continued scope for growth. And Big Brother is not just a TV show, it’s an event. It is the original social experiment with entertainment at its heart. It has such a strong, standout identity which is iconic and instantly recognizable. And Banijay is a trusted producer with a reputation for delivering these complex, high-value productions with integrity.

At their cores, both shows have strong and unique format pillars, with universally appealing themes, which make them stand out from their competitors.

Both formats have seen different spin-offs like celebrity versions, all-stars versions. How have the formats changed throughout this quarter of a century and how do you make sure they stay current and modern in 2023? Will viewers see new spin-offs of the two formats, companion shows?
There is so much creativity and work that goes into keeping our long-running shows fresh and on-air, and each version feels new. We have a wide range of tried and tested elements that can be played with, and the formats are flexible and scalable depending on the needs of the broadcaster.

These are shows with integrity, strong brand values and identities, so whilst each take on them is unique and heavily influenced by the broadcaster and local culture, there is a core format DNA that lives throughout every iteration, making them instantly recognizable wherever you are in the world.

And both formats are fueled by a diverse cast, which reflects the current society and culture, of that market, making each version current and distinctive.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been one of the hottest topics in the TV and digital industry this year. How are you incorporating the new technology in the production of the two formats around the world?
As a fierce champion of human creativity, AI for Banijay is a tool which our creative talent can lean into, but it won’t be generating our next format.

We are embracing the technology, and we must continue to stay ahead of the curve when implementing its use, to maintain our competitive edge. And outside of our high-performing super brands, an area we are experimenting in is the revival of dormant shows.

The creator of Survivor - Charlie Parsons - once filed a lawsuit against Endemol, claiming Big Brother was a rip-off of his show. The two formats now co-exist peacefully in your portfolio. What are the main differences between the two shows and, from your discussions with potential clients, what are the strongest features of the formats that they go for when choosing them?
Big Brother and Survivor have set an extremely high bar for unscripted reality, and it is testament to the durability of the formats that they are still standing strong, where so many others have fallen. They are both reality hits, but they also perform different roles for our clients.

They have very different identities and distinctive format beats, which sets them apart from each other and allows them to happily co-exist in the same market – something we have seen all around the world. One is premium prim time, and one delivers volume, with both doing some serious heavy-lifting for broadcasters in terms of hitting the right demographics. Working as stripped on linear or binged on demand, they appeal to a wide client base who are increasingly wanting standout shows like these to bring audiences to their services.

Big Brother

How many territories have made their adaptations of Big Brother and Survivor? How many hours and episodes have the two formats seen produced? 2022 was the strongest year ever for Big Brother with 33 productions airing across 26 markets. What is the show’s performance in 2023? What about Survivor?
Both formats are in rude health and on-course for a successful 2023. A total of 50 versions and more than 360 series of Survivor have been commissioned around the world to-date. Big Brother has had 67 adaptations, broadcast across 72 countries, with over 550 seasons and 35.000 episodes. These are huge numbers, and it really is testament to the hard work put in by the teams all around the world to deliver these series, which remain in-high demand 20+ years after their debuts.

What are Banijay’s latest deals for the two shows? Are brand-new territories being added to its footprint this year?
Survivor continues to add new territories to its footprint, including in Quebec this year, where the launch increased the channel’s slot average by 200%. Cross-territory versions for Croatia/Serbia and Slovakia/Czech Republic are recent additions to the Survivor family, and beyond the UK, we have seen big returns in Argentina and Columbia after a number of years off-air.

Big Brother’s global reach expanded earlier this year with first series in Chile, Kosovo, and with a Nigeria vs South Africa version. Plus, the series has seen several successful reboots such as in Argentina last year.

BB will come back after a 4-year break with its 20th season in the UK. Will you use this big launch on ITV to introduce new elements to the format? Do you expect this to prompt the show’s comeback in other territories?
The new UK version is taking the format back to its roots, as a strong civilian social project with a diverse group of interesting people from all walks of life. We have familiar elements, such as the original narrator who has been across every version produced in the UK, and it will bring back the much-loved live feed and streaming elements. The series is strongly backed by ITV and its launch will be simulcast on ITV1 and ITV2. Interest in this version is high, and its return will only have a positive influence on discussions we are already having internationally.

Are streamers interested in doing international versions of the two shows? What makes them attractive to such platforms?
These tried and tested shows get noticed in a noisy market, and the familiarity delivers viewers, so both are in demand from all clients. Power brands like Big Brother and Survivor are so iconic and form a key part of our partners’ marketing strategies.

Big Brother’s highly-anticipated return in the UK for ITV2 and ITVX fits perfectly with ITV’s ambition to position itself for a streaming-first world. This is a trend we see globally, with the format performing really well for the likes of CBS and Paramount+ in the US, RTL 5 and Videoland in the Netherlands and Nelonen and Ruutu+ in Finland.

In the UK, the BBC has been vocal about its digital-first strategy, and the return of Survivor is very much part of this for BBC One and BBC iPlayer. In Finland the latest premiere became the most watched show of all time for Ruutu, and in Denmark the first episode of the new series broke the all-time record for the number of Viaplay viewers it attracted.

What other countries, alongside the USA, have seen the highest number of seasons produced?
Both formats have very high recommission rates, resulting in big season numbers for individual markets. Survivor US has just started airing its 45th version, with France, Sweden and The Netherlands not far behind – the latter has been on-air every year since 2000. Big Brother is a long running hit in key markets too including the US and Italy, where it has aired consecutive series for two decades.
Lucas Green

As Banijay’s Chief Content Officer, Operations, Lucas Green co-leads Creative Networks and is charged with overseeing the group’s superbrands and existing formats. Promoting production best practice in returning formats and reboots, he sets the global strategy for world-class content and priority titles, encouraging roll-out, reinvention and spin-offs. Green joined Banijay in January 2018 from Fremantle having previously led his own production company. In his spare time he is a Trustee of an inner city charity and serves as Director of a school Multi Academy Trust in London.
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