'Big Brother Israel' Incorporates Bomb Shelter Amid Gaza Conflict

Big Brother Israel Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Keshet Broadcasting

Big Brother Israel Still - H 2014

The war is costing broadcasters $25 million, but the reality show is pulling in a 45 percent share.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The bloody conflict in Gaza already has forced U.S. productions such as FX's Tyrant and USA Network's Dig to relocate to Turkey and Malta, respectively. Now Operation Protective Edge is proving devastating to Israel's TV industry. Since the military escalation with Hamas began July 8, Israeli news telecasts have taken over airtime at the expense of popular programming. Nearly all current and upcoming TV production has been stalled as advertisers pull out and revenue plummets at broadcasting giants Keshet and Reshet.

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Keshet reps tell THR that losses from the first two weeks of fighting stood at $13.1 million, while Reshet lost an estimated $11 million, according to local paper Israel Hayom. "The immediate effect … is on the commercial television market," says Reshet vp communications Yael Gaoni. Reshet's airing of the third season of The Voice Israel, which began June 8, was interrupted during the blind-auditions stage. The live portion of the season is a question mark because the show was expected to end in mid-September, before the country's traditional Jewish High Holy Days hiatus.

Keshet CEO Avi Nir is taking a different approach to the conflict, which has killed about 50 Israelis and more than 1,000 Palestinians. His company's ratings powerhouse Big Brother Israel was more than halfway through its sixth season when rockets began landing on the outskirts of Jerusalem, where the Big Brother house is located in the village of Neve Ilan. Rather than halt production, the live show has incorporated regional alarms alerting houseguests to seek shelter, which violates the Big Brother mandate that contestants remain cut off from the outside world.

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Keshet's decision to continue Big Brother has met with backlash from critics who argue the move was motivated by profit during a time of crisis. The show is pulling in a healthy 45 percent share of Israeli households, but Keshet vp programming Ran Telem says the choice was not made lightly. "[It's] something we really debated," he says. "The audience appreciates the break they get, so we try very hard despite the situation to keep it on the air. The contract we have with the viewers at home is that when there is a significant development, we return to the news telecast at once."