For the fifth album in a row, Columbia Records and Bruce Springsteen are turning to television or film to herald the arrival of new music from the rock legend. This time, the embed is deeper with greater permanence, and an attempt to associate Springsteen’s music with images that are beyond his control.
That element is far different from any Springsteen has taken in his 40-year recording career.
Three songs from his Jan. 14 album “High Hopes” will appear in the Jan. 12 episode of the CBS drama “The Good Wife” and the album will stream on the network’s website, CBS.com beginning on Jan. 5. The album preview will be posted after “The Good Wife” airs on Jan. 5, promoting the next episode of the series that will include the new recordings “High Hopes,” “Hunter of Invisible Game” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”
A year ago, “The Good Wife” attracted an audience of 10.04 million viewers making it the most watched series in the 9-10 p.m. hour. Demographically, however, its rating was fourth place with 2.43 million viewers between the ages of 18 and 49. It did have stiff competition, however, from the Golden Globes, which will again be airing against the CBS series.
In the first ten weeks of the current season – mid-September through early December – “The Good Wife” had an average audience of 11.64 million viewers. When DVR viewing in the week that follows the broadcast of an original episode is factored in, “The Good Wife” is consistently in the top 20 of all shows in terms of ratings growth. Its Dec. 1 broadcast, for example, saw a 25 percent spike in overall viewership and 31 percent growth among 18-49, according to Nielsen data. CBS is currently the top-rated network in terms of its weekly total viewers averaging 11.39 million viewers for the week ending Dec. 29, 2013, according to Nielsen TV Ratings data.
Naturally, CBS and the Springsteen camps hope that body of viewers – it’s not unreasonable to figure the episode will have 13 million to 14 million viewers watching during its first sales week – will become album buyers. Springsteen has had no trouble debuting at No. 1 – his last four studio albums of newly recorded original material debuted atop the Billboard 200 – but each successive album with the E Street Band has dipped from its predecessor. In each instance, the first weeks represent about one-third the total of each album’s eventual total.
“Wrecking Ball” sold 196,000 copies in its first week in March 2012, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Its TV promotional element was a performance of the lead single “We Take Care of Our Own” opening the 2012 Grammy Awards.
“Working on a Dream,” a January 2009 release, sold 224,000 copies in its first week after an extensive promotional push that included a Super Bowl halftime performance of the title track.
“Magic,” released on vinyl in late September 2007 to qualify for the Grammy Awards, sold 335,000 copies in its first week. Springsteen and the E Street Band performed in New York City on NBC’s “Today”; their only other morning show performance had been broadcast from their rehearsal space in Asbury Park, N.J., for “The Rising.”
His last archival project, “The Promise,” a documentary that covered the making of “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” included a film premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and aired on HBO in November 2010.
In every televised instance, though, Springsteen controlled the image projected, reinforcing the strength of his live performances, his rare combination of swagger and congeniality and the potency of the new material. Springsteen’s recordings are a rarity in TV shows. Notably over the last eight years, “Blood Brothers” rolled at the end of the premiere episode of NBC’s “Chicago Fire” and an episode of “CSI: NY”; “Rosalita” was in “The Office” finale; and his version of Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl” was in CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother.”
The last time more than one of his tracks was used in a single show was a 2006 episode of CBS’ “Cold Case,” which used single artist soundtracks numerous times. That show’s use of nine tracks was all catalog and not tied to a new release.
It’s a rare step for “The Good Wife” to feature music from such a prominent musician. Now in its fifth season, “Wife” will feature a handful of songs in each episode, the emphasis being on independent musicians and the occasional cover. This season has featured music from ZZ Ward, Goran Bregovic and Chris Thile.
CBS’ website does not actively promote the music used in its shows the way ABC’s does, which could work in Springsteen’s favor once the album begins streaming. There will not be any clutter to cut through, but one has to wonder how many music fans will be interested in visiting an unfamiliar site that is strictly geared to drive television viewership. CBS Interactive, however, which is the parent company of CBS.com and also includes such sites as last.fm and CNET, ranked No. 9 with nearly 81 million visitors in comScore's November rankings of the Top 50 Desktop Web Properties.
Springsteen’s team, already burdened with a .net domain name, may well pull in new fans with the song usages, though connecting with a non-commerce-driven website seems dicey. “The Good Wife” has yet to truly bolster a musical effort and this could well be its first, but the ultimately the one guy who can sell his own music better than the rest is, in this case, sitting on the sidelines.