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16 years later, "Big Brother" hits the Web

Net users face a dreaded bottleneck as they try to catch the Webcast of a new CBS show that throws 10 strangers into a house together for three months.

Just like most public spectacles, Net users crowded around the Webcast of the new CBS television show "Big Brother" for a chance to peep into the doings of its 10 subjects.

Not everybody got a good view.

CBS said more than 22 million people tuned in to watch the TV premiere of "Big Brother" on Wednesday night. And when the show ended, many of them apparently logged on to watch the show's Webcast. Like so many Web sites that have drawn large audiences in the past, the bottleneck slowed service.

"There has been some variance in performance levels during peak usage times," said Julie Mason, spokeswoman for America Online, which is hosting the Webcast. The number of Web watchers that night isn't available yet, she added.

The debut of "Big Brother" follows the network's other reality-based show, "Survivor."

"Big Brother" invites viewers to watch every movement of 10 strangers who were chosen to live in a house on a studio lot that keeps them isolated from the outside world for three months.

AOL negotiated the use of four of the 28 cameras that CBS had built into the house to spy on the every move of its inhabitants. While CBS plans to air "Big Brother" five nights a week, AOL will keep its four cameras rolling all day, every day.

"This is the first time anything of this magnitude has been undertaken," Mason said.

The show's Webcast is available to the public at its site. But soon, AOL members alone will have access to three extra cameras.

Serving video feeds over the Web to a mass audience has proven to be tricky. In perhaps the best-known Webcast breakdown, women's apparel maker Victoria's Secret saw its site slow to a crawl in February 1999 when it was overrun by 1.5 million visitors trying to log on to a live fashion show.

It took an average of more than 2 minutes to download a page, and only about 2 percent of an automated round of requests for the company's page succeeded.

The technology has improved since then. Yahoo, IBM and Microsoft helped Victoria's Secret bolster its systems so this year it would be able to handle 10 times more traffic than the year before.

More than 2 million people logged on to the May fashion show, the majority of whom did not experience any delays in service, the company said.

To ensure that the public does not miss a moment of "Big Brother," AOL has dispatched a team of technicians to CBS Studios in Los Angeles.

"We're using emerging technologies," Mason said. "We are doing everything we can to make sure that our members are given the best experience."