2000 Roundup: Big Brother craze hits Britain

The phenomenon that revealed the British public as a nation of voyeurs

The nation slipped into a unexpected frenzy during the summer of 2000 when the voyeuristic experiment Big brother first appeared on our screens. Millions of viewers immersed themselves in the lives of ten contestants who willingly renounced their privacy for nine weeks living under the scrutiny of myriad high-tech surveillance equipment.

ZDNet takes you through the highlights of an event that formed a landmark in the convergence of Internet and television.

The Big Brother Web site went live on Friday 14 July at www.channel4.com/bigbrother/, when ten brave contestants were broadcast walking the "bridge of shame" into a house where they were to spend the next 70 days in complete isolation. Watching their every move using Web cams, viewers were able to log onto the site at any period during the show... assuming of course the site wasn't on its knees.

Five days after its launch, the site had received more than seven and a half million visitors. The load -- the heaviest of any server facility in the UK -- proved too much for the Intel machines hosting the site and on 18 July "a massive denial of access attack (DoS)" finally brought Big Brother's Web site down.

Around 500,000 people tried to log onto the site during the first television broadcast of the show.

A month into the event, the Big Brother site experienced an outage when the housemates' growing concerns over Nick reached breaking point. On 18 August, the live Web coverage was cut hours before Craig's legendary confrontation with Nick.

According to reports, the online team decided to halt broadcasts from the house Web cams because they were concerned about streaming a violent confrontation. A source at Channel 4 however revealed that the TV team cut the feed deliberately in order to protect the TV programme's viewing figures.

The confrontation was seen live over the Web, a first in TV Internet media. For the first time in British broadcasting history, the Internet provided thousands, if not millions of viewers with live footage of a TV event on the Internet. In effect, when the TV show was broadcast, it was already out of date...

In the fifth round of voting, telephone pranksters were found to be targeting the eviction lines in an attempt to rig the vote. The culprits left messages on business answerphones throughout the country claiming to be Tom from Bow -- when businessmen returned the call they found themselves being put through to the "vote Thomas out" hotline. The Channel 4 team was unconcerned as its eviction lines had been frantically dealing with more than 1.5 million calls a week.

The popularity of Big Brother was confirmed on 25 August by a report from software provider Websense, claiming that the Big Brother Web site was costing UK businesses £300,000 a day, or £1.4m a week in lost productivity. According to the report, 700,000 people visited the site at least once in July, with the average user logging on for 16.1 minutes.

At the end of August, the Big Brother site was found to be the fastest growing site on the planet according to Internet researchers MMXI, outstripping even the popular Lastminute.com site. The site went straight in at number 26 in the July 2000 rankings -- while Lastminute only made it to 35 -- and remained in the top 50 sites since its July launch.

The British public will be able to take on the role of Big Brother again next year with the launch of Big Brother 2.

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