When discussing the behind-the-scenes action of CBS program Big Brother, one can't help thinking that The Truman Show has become reality. A Web site (www.bigbrother2000.com) offering 24-hour access to camera feeds conjures up visions of Ed Harris watching every move Truman Burbank made.
And while the size of the television audience seems to ebb and flow depending on the night or the lead-in, the Internet audience is growing, at least according to AOL, which is running the site.
According to AOL spokeswoman Julie Mason, by Monday, July 10, the numbers had quadrupled from the previous Wednesday, although she could not specify what the first-day total was. Since Monday, she says, the numbers are up, though not at the exponential growth rate first experienced.
"Fans of the show will do both: [visit the Web site and watch the TV program]," says CBS spokesman Dana McClintock. "The idea is that people who go on the Web at work want to see the television format as well and will also invest the time at night."
The Internet has been home to 24-hour Webcasts before, most notably www.jennicam.org, but this is the first time a U.S. television offering has been geared to the Peeping Toms and Tammys of the world.
Adding to the site's uniqueness is AOL's involvement. "We have a very strong relationship with CBS, and we've worked with them promotionally many times, so we're in constant dialogue on the events they're planning," says Joe Redling, senior vice president of AOL brand marketing.
"When we heard about Big Brother and the Internet component, we thought it would be pretty compelling content that the whole country would be interested in. We wanted to make sure our members had a front-row seat."
Visitors to the site find four live camera feeds from the show. AOL offers its members a more thorough voyeuristic experience with the help of three additional feeds (added last week). And the feeds, unlike previous Webcam experiences, offer changing camera angles.
The relationship between CBS and AOL is a promotional one, with AOL aggressively promoting Big Brother on its site and CBS touting AOL during the program and in other efforts.
The 24-hour Webcasting experience is usually akin to watching paint dry, with hours of non-action and stationary cameras adding to the still-life feeling. But Redling says the difference with the Big Brother Web site is that viewers have a relationship with the cast members.
In addition, because the feeds are live, the feeling that "anything can happen" pulls in viewers, although AOL aims to make sure that "anything" is within reasonable, tasteful bounds.
"The feeds are live," adds Redling, "and CBS is primarily the one looking at the feeds in the control room. They're very aware of our terms of service, and we have the technical opportunity to change feeds as necessary.
"But it is live, and there will be things that aren't suitable for children."
Is this the beginning of a new AOL programming lineup? Redling explains that the company will take each reality-based opportunity as it comes. "This is a big undertaking for us, and we think the show will be a hit," he says.
"This is not the beginning of a trend for us; this is just an opportunity that we thought was fantastic."