Comm306_Buying_into_American_Idol

Comm306_Buying_into_American_Idol - Buying into American...

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Buying into American Idol How We Are Being Sold on Reality Television Who would have predicted that reality television series, such as Survivor (2000) and American Idol (2002), would turn out to be the first killer application of media convergence-the big new thing that demonstrated the power that lies at the intersection between old and new media? Initial experiments with interactive television in the mid-1990s were largely written off as failures. Most people didn't want to stop watching television just to buy the clothes one of the Friends (1994) was wearing. Few were interested in trivia quizzes flashing up at the bottom of the screen during sportscasts or James Bond movies. Critics argued that most of us simply wanted to sit back and watch television rather than interact with it. The current success of reality television is forcing the media industry to rethink some of those assumptions. The shift is one from real-time interaction toward asynchronous participation. Few can argue with American Idol's success. By the final weeks of its second 2003 season, FOX Broadcasting Company was receiving more than 20 million telephone calls or text messages per episode casting verdicts on the American Idol contestants.1 This made the phone companies happy because they have been trying to find a way to get Americans more excited about text messaging, which hasn't taken off in the United States the way it has in Asia and northern Europe. Of the 140 million mobile phones in the United States today, only 27 million are being used for text messaging.2 AT&T Wireless reported that roughly a third of those who participated in American Idol through text messaging had never sent a text message before.3 As an AT&T spokesman explained, "Our venture with FOX has done more to educate the public and get people texting than any marketing activity in this country to date."4 American Idol commanded two of the top five time slots throughout the important May 2003 sweeps period. More than 40 million people watched the final segment of the final episode of American Idol's second season. By the third season, FOX devoted 13.5 hours to American Idol during the crucial May sweeps period, representing nearly one quarter of their total prime-time schedule for the month.5 This made advertisers happy. As MediaCom chief executive Jon Mandel explains, "We know when people are watching a show they care about, they tend to watch commercials more. Unfortunately, there aren't that many shows people care about."16 American Idol, based on the successful British series Pop Idol, was sold to FOX through an aggressive campaign by the Creative Artists Agency, which saw the series as an ideal match for their client, Coca-Cola, and its 12-24-year-old target audience.7 And what a match it has been. For those of you without a television or a teenage offspring, American Idol is a showcase of unknown singers-some good, some very bad-from around the country. Each week, the finalists perform and the audience votes out one contestant. In the end, the surviving
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Comm306_Buying_into_American_Idol - Buying into American...

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