Internet Video

Big Michael Jackson Ratings Easy As A-B-C

7/11/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Cable networks won't stop till they get enough of Michael Jackson.

Nearly a week after 31.1 million television viewers tuned into one of the 19 cable and broadcast networks televising the King of Pop's July 7 memorial service from Los Angeles, many cable networks and operators are planning special programming over the next few weeks surrounding the reclusive pop star.

Michael Jackson memorial service at July 7Meanwhile, cable news networks are expected to cover new and ongoing developments regarding Jackson's sudden death as well as other stories regarding his family and finances.

Given the historic spike in ratings and online traffic Jackson's death has generated, cable networks won't likely beat it from the Jackson story anytime soon.

“If you play this coverage right, you can squeeze an enormous amount of material and therefore an enormous audience out of a single story that can give a amazing boost for your ratings,” said Robert Thompson, founding director of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for TV and Popular Culture.

Indeed, entertainment networks are already looking to continue the ratings momentum that the coverage of Jackson's June 25 death of cardiac arrest has already generated.

TV Guide Network, which has experienced double-digit prime time ratings increases for its two weeks of heavy Jackson coverage, will air a daily 30-minute Hollywood 411: Michael Jackson Special Edition show beginning July 13 that will offer the latest news about the circumstances surrounding Jackson's death, the fate of his fortune, and the custody battle for his children.

In addition, the network will air a July 14 special, Michael Jackson: Stars Remember the Time, featuring celebrity reactions and recollections of the King of Pop. The network is also exploring a special that looks at the peculiar similarities between the lives of Elvis Presley and Jackson, according to network officials.

TV One, which had already planned a tribute to Jackson in late July to coincide with Jackson's planned London concert tour, will run Jackson-related content for a week beginning July 27, according to TV One officials.

The African-American targeted network's July 2 re-airing of the 2001 Michael Jackson 30th Anniversary Concert at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. drew 1.4 million viewers — the second most watched night for the network in its history.

E! said it is planning several additional Jackson specials for air in the near future, although a network spokeswoman would not reveal specific details. E! said July 7 was its highest-ever rated weekday, averaging 746,000 viewers.

MTV has already announced that it will devote its entire programming schedule on Aug. 1 — MTV's 28th birthday — to a global celebration of Jackson's music. The programming slate, details of which will be released at a later date, is expected to reach more than a half billion households in over 160 countries around the world.

Even cable operators are experiencing an uptick in viewership due to Jackson-related content. Comcast has generated 8.2 million views for 41 Jackson-related videos, interviews and tributes since launching a special package of content June 26, according to MSO vice president of video content Diane Kerekes. That accounts for more than 1.1 million hours of Jackson-related content downloaded by Comcast subscribers over a 13-day period.

“We're glad our customers had the opportunity to memorialize Michael Jackson on their terms so that they can watch their favorite videos over and over again,” she said.

Comcast Entertainment Group executive vice president of program strategy and research Cyndi McClellan said Jackson's musical legacy and often bizarre personal life continues to resonate with viewers from all walks of life.

“People are fascinated by Michael Jackson because he represents so many different people in one — whether it was his bizarre and unusual behavior that captured so much attention or the insane talent he possessed as an artist or his desire to be a 'normal' person as a son, brother, dad, husband and friend,” she said. “He offered so many distinctly different sides to his persona [and] because he has been a mainstay in pop culture for over 40 years, multiple generations share the same fascination. ”

At no time was that more apparent than the viewership returns from Jackson's July 7 memorial service.

The star-studded memorial, featuring emotionally-driven performances from Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Usher, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Hudson, was the third most-watched funeral/burial event in recent television history, behind the 35 million viewers who tuned into the June 2004 primetime airing of President Reagan's burial and the 33 million viewers who watched Princess Diana's early morning funeral in September 2007, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

CNN drew 5.2 million viewers for its 1:00 p.m. to 4 p.m. coverage of the memorial, an increase of more than 1000% over the same period in 2008, according to a Disney-ABC Television Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research.

Fox News Channel (2.2 million, viewers up 203%); E! (791,000 viewers, up 190%); MSNBC (1.3 million, up 750%); and BET (746,000, up 117%) were also among the cable networks posting significant increases with its memorial coverage compared to a year ago, according to Nielsen.

Jackson's funeral also drove millions to watch live video on the Internet, but the event didn't surpass the all-time record set with President Obama's inauguration in January.

CNN.com was the most popular destination, serving 10.5 million live video streams for the total day of July 7, compared with 26.9 million live streams for the Obama inauguration. During the Jackson memorial service — between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET — CNN.com served 4.4 million live video streams and peaked with 781,000 concurrent live streams.

FoxNews.com delivered 3.4 million streams for the Jackson memorial, compared with 5 million on Inauguration Day, with a peak at 1:50 p.m. ET of 676,821 streams.

Meanwhile, MSNBC.com served 3.1 million live streams, versus 9 million for the inauguration. The site said consumers spent an average of 12.1 minutes per visit viewing Jackson-related video.

Internet TV site Hulu, a joint venture of News Corp., NBC Universal and Walt Disney Co., offered the live feed from Fox News available to users worldwide. The company did not disclose how many streams it served; those views were not counted as part of the FoxNews.com total.

In the United Kingdom, BBC News' site served 410,000 live Internet video streams.

Akamai Technologies, an Internet content-distribution network provider, said it delivered more than 2.185 million live and on-demand video streams last Tuesday with total traffic across its network topping 2 Terabits per second during Jackson's memorial service. That's less than one-third the 7 million active simultaneous streams the Akamai network recorded during the Obama inauguration in January.

According to Facebook, about 1 million users posted approximately 800,000 status updates on the site related to the live online broadcasts by CNN, E! Online, ABC.com and MTV of the Jackson memorial service. Of those, 733,000 were attributed to CNN's coverage. On Inauguration Day, according to Facebook, 1.8 million status updates included the word “Obama.”

With the settling of Jackson's financial estate and potential custody battles over the care of Jackson's three children still to come, it's a good bet that Jackson-related content will continue to moonwalk across television and computer screens.

September