Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Big Mistake?

When is an idea burnt out and when does it just need a new twist, or a little tweaking to reignite interest in it?

This week in the UK, Big Brother returns and it’s over a decade since it first hit our screens on Channel 4. After the ratings started to flag and the idea wore a bit thin, they dumped the show, for it then to be picked up by Channel 5.

They’re debuting with a series of ‘Celebrity Big Brother’, and of course with different hosts and a different team working on the show, we can expect the show to have a somewhat ‘new’ feel.

But is the format worth hanging on to, or is it just a turn off?

In radio we face similar dilemmas on a regular basis. It may be related to a particular benchmark, or perhaps a Morning Show that has seen better days, or even the format for the whole radio station.

So, when is it best to add a twist or something different... and when is it best to just say goodbye?

Fans of Big Brother in the UK will no doubt remember that producers always liked to add a twist to each series to refresh audience interest. Viewers were treated to Live Tasks, Big Brother going ‘evil’, Secret Missions, an All Female House, Fake evictions, and even the public choosing the final housemate to enter the house.

Over time, our attention was kept by this simple process of keeping the basis of the format, but adding something fresh to it.

This can work in radio too. Take your biggest benchmark. Is it time for a twist to be added to it? How could an extra element be added to make it more entertaining? What could that twist be?

Think about the big station promotion that you’ve done for the last 5 years in exactly the same way. Sure... it works, but would the audience be more interested in it if you added a new surprise element to it? What would that be?

If we’re thinking about a programme, the twist may be something more permanent. Is the Morning Show getting a bit too ‘set in its ways’? Would a new character or person on the team add a different dynamic? Could it be a younger female added in to make an impact? Maybe a new travel person? Again, you don’t always need to throw the basics away if it’s not quite working. Adding or even taking away an element may do the trick.

But there are some occasions when something’s run its course. If your brand thrives from always bringing fresh ideas to the audience, hanging on to something ‘past its sell-by-date’ can do your brand image some serious damage.

It might be that old promotional idea you trot out every summer, or that benchmark you’ve had on air now for 4 years without it really making an impact. Be brave. Cast aside dead wood. Don’t carry a 'corpse' of an idea around with you.

There are plenty more great new ideas, formats, and promotions out there... so never feel like you’re committing a sin if you get rid of something. Even if the Sales team tell you that they can still get a sponsor for it!

The trick is, of course, to get rid of it before it becomes an ‘infected toe’ and starts to spread its rot through the body of your brand.

I think that's what Channel 4 did when they axed Big Brother in 2010. Yes, it was still pulling in 3 Million viewers and had a lucrative sponsor, but it had become a tired format that was symptomatic of a channel that was in danger of losing its way. They jettisoned it; just in time in my view.

So, as the new series debuts this week on a new channel, it will no doubt get some 'half-decent' viewing figures, and generate some sponsorship revenue for the broadcaster, but I’d rather be in Channel 4’s place... of working on the next new idea, the next creative moment that can shape the brand for the decade to come.

So – remember to regularly add a twist to keep your ideas fresh. But also know when you should move on.

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