U.K.'s 'Big Brother' losing steam

Ratings have fallen to series low in 10th season

LONDON -- It has been one of the most controversial zeitgeist shows of the past decade, but in its tenth year, Channel 4's "Big Brother" appears to be running out of steam, with U.K. ratings falling to their lowest level since the show began.

In its 10-season run the Endemol U.K.-produced show has regularly divided critics, some of whom have derided the show as banal and accused the producers of being manipulative.

Three years ago the celebrity version of the show caused an international outcry after Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty was the victim of racist taunts from other competitors.

But the forerunner to a generation of reality shows has -- until this year -- reliably delivered significant youth audiences both on air and online, forming the backbone of Channel 4's summer programming ratings during its three-month annual run and dominating the front pages of the tabloid press.

This year, however, almost two months into its three-month the U.K. show is averaging 2 million viewers and a 10.1% audience share, around 33% down on its performance last year and well down on earlier series, some of which averaged audiences of almost 6 million viewers per episode.

In the key 1-34 advertising demographic the show earned 700,000 viewers and a 16.7% audience share this year.

The show debuted this year with 4.8 million viewers and a 22.1% share, down from 5.2 million last year and a 24.2% share a year ago.

Endemol executives defended the show's performance, pointing out that the format is on air in 41 territories around the world and had recently won its time slot with the debut of season 11 on CBS, improving its performance ratings year on year.

In Italy the finale of "Big Brother" recently attracted 7.9 million viewers and a 36% share. In other markets, such as Argentina, the show has been rested for a few years and then come back stronger than ever, Endemol executives said.

"You can't use audience averages to work out how the show has done until a season has finished, the audience builds through until the finale," said said Paul Johnson, global head of marketing and brand partnerships for Endemol Group.

"The 'death of Big Brother' is written about every year- however the show continues to rate extremely well in the timeslot when compared to the slot average for C4. Big Brother consistently exceeds the slot average for the timeslot on Channel 4. No other show on the broadcaster is on air everyday for 13 weeks," Johnson added.

A spokeswoman for Channel 4 said the broadcaster remained confident about the show.

"Channel 4 is focusing on producing and broadcasting an enjoyable and entertaining series. "Big Brother 10" is performing strongly relative to our usual rating in the slot, and it retains a loyal, young audience, with the 16-34 profile for the show up on last year."