This Brazilian Reality Show Is Setting New Records 20 Years In

Big Brother Brazil benefits from clever casting and an audience stuck at home during the pandemic

A screenshot of cast members from Big Brother Brazil
Big Brother Brazil has been averaging 36 million daily viewers for its linear airings, as well as bonus episodes on Globo’s pay TV channel. Globo TV
Headshot of Chris Ariens

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It’s not just in the United States: Countries around the world are seeing spikes in TV viewership as a result of coronavirus-related quarantines, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. In Brazil, one venerable reality TV show is seeing some of its biggest ratings ever with a mix of clever casting and an audience stuck at home.

Big Brother Brazil, which airs on Globo TV, has been averaging 36 million daily viewers for its linear airings as well as bonus episodes on Globo’s pay TV channel. The show began its current season on Jan. 21 and has continued to build audience toward its conclusion on April 22.

“We were able to put together a cast of anonymous people and digital influencers, which was pivotal to boosting viewership, especially among younger audiences,” said Eduardo Schaeffer, director of integrated advertising at Globo.

The show’s 10th eviction episode in late March brought total TV viewership for the series to 159 million and attracted 1 billion online votes just 30 hours after voting began. It set a world record for votes cast on a reality show with more than 1.5 billion people registered.

Big Brother airs in 70 countries as a televised social experiment based on a Dutch TV series created by producer John de Mol in 1997. Distributed globally by Endemol Shine, the show brings together strangers who share a home and are closed off from the outside world for up to 99 days. CBS has aired Big Brother in the U.S. since the summer of 2000. Last season, the CBS version averaged 4.4 million viewers an episode. The network announced there will be a Season 22, and while CBS still hopes to air the show this summer, it could be delayed due to COVID-19.

The cast of the 20th season of the Brazilian version entered the Big Brother House on the sprawling Globo TV lot before COVID-19 became a pandemic. The contestants were told of the growing severity of the disease in mid-March.

“Social distancing measures in response to COVID-19, and in force in Brazil since March 16, have been duly implemented,” said Schaeffer. “There is no doubt that stay-at-home orders have benefited viewership, however, even before social distancing guidelines came into effect in Brazil, the show had already reached 150 million people 53 days after its premiere.”

And that’s an easy sell to advertisers. Burger King, Mondelez and Unilever-owned Omo are among six main sponsors brought on board before production began. Globo has 23 brand partners in all this season, compared to 18 last season. Brands can take part in themed parties, sponsored games and endurance competitions, which take place every day.

"There is no doubt that stay-at-home orders have benefited viewership, however, the show had already reached 150 million people 53 days after its premiere."
Eduardo Schaeffer, Globo TV

Schaeffer said brand social lift is up as well. “We have seen a 14% increase of brand content shared on social media, in relation to last year,” he said.

Globo is also working with TunAd, a company that tracks online and offline marketing. Havaianas, the famous Brazilian flip-flop brand, worked with Globo on a 10-minute promotional activity. Following the campaign, online search for the term Havaianas saw a 2,000% increase compared to a period of several minutes before the campaign aired.

Fiat, a long-standing partner, is using the show to mobilize its car dealerships across the country. The company said sales increased 20% compared to similar campaigns held in previous years.

“Among the different initiatives we use to communicate our brand values and products, Big Brother Brazil is one of the most effective ones due to its massive popularity and influence on social media engagement,” said Frederico Battaglia, Latin America CMO for Fiat Chrysler.

Fast-fashion retailer C&A increased organic traffic on its ecommerce site by 340% during its branded content activities on the show. “With this omnichannel strategy, the brand has been able to strengthen its relationship with customers and effectively communicate with them across multiple channels and touch points,” said Mariana Moraes, senior marketing manager at C&A Brazil.

“We take great care to ensure that all marketing activities are as fluid as possible, so as not to interfere with the main objective of the show which is to entertain,” said Schaeffer. “We have a skilled team of writers, content creators and producers, who work together with advertising agencies and clients to create exciting and innovative competitions and marketing activities.”

Globo is banking on the ratings, consumer engagement and brand integration that Big Brother, even in its 20th season, can deliver as the entrenched network stands up to streaming giant Netflix, which has seen massive growth in the last few years. Emarketer forecasts Netflix viewership in Brazil will average 28.7 million monthly viewers in 2020, with Brazilians paying some of the cheapest monthly subscriptions, the U.S. equivalent of $5.99 a month.

When a reporter covered the opening of Globo’s new $50 million studio complex last August, Grupo Globo CEO Jorge Nóbrega said the network’s success was going to hinge on how quickly it could transform to meet viewers where they are.

“We want to change to a model that is relating directly with the consumers,” he said. “We believe our future is there. You see the movements of Disney in America. Technology is now an essential variable.”

But in the case of Big Brother Brazil, the network is finding its past successes can stand the test of time.

@ChrisAriens Chris Ariens is the managing editor and director of video at Adweek.