Talk about event television: The mega-blowout to celebrate Michael Jackson’s life and music is expected to draw some of the biggest daytime audiences stateside in decades and through-the-roof ratings in Europe, where the show will air live in primetime.
Whatever the questions surrounding the pop star’s life (and death), Tuesday morning’s memorial at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles is expected to draw especially high numbers among the younger demos, though it probably won’t catapult into the pop pantheon of Charles and Diana’s wedding almost 30 years ago or the global jukebox Live Aid concert of 1985.
The royal nuptials purportedly drew a colossal 750 million viewers to their TV sets; Live Aid attracted about 400 million.
As for more recent comparisons, the numbers could be in the same ballpark as the viewership for the inauguration of Barack Obama, which also unspooled in morning hours on multiple networks and attracted about 40 million U.S. viewers.
In Europe, the small-screen ratings performance should be particularly powerful.
“It’s perfectly timed for us,” BSkyB executive producer Tim Gallagher said. “We’ll be beaming back a pre- and post-memorial analysis show as well as the main attraction, and we’ll be airing across Europe as well as in the U.K. in high definition.”
Britain’s BBC, Germany’s RTL, France’s TF1, Australia’s Nine and Japan’s NHK will also field teams covering the memorial. Jackson was at least as popular abroad as he was in the U.S.
In Brazil, too, the coverage of the Jackson saga has been wall-to-wall, with lead broadcaster Globo reporting blockbuster ratings and planning blanket coverage Tuesday.
Fans and media from around the world have flown in to LAX to swell the local contingent likely to converge on the arena this morning, roadblocks be damned. Already on Monday afternoon there was a long line of fans waiting to sign the huge posters of the singer in the cordoned-off area around Staples.
“This is the kind of event on TV that just about everyone will tune in for, at least for a part of it, in order to be a part of it,” one producer already positioned at Staples told THR. He said his company’s preparations were similar to those made for a big soccer match or big awards show.
However, organizers have told broadcasters down at Staples that there will be no VIP red carpet line and that dignitaries and celebs will be spirited in and out of the building with no chance for interviews.
ABC has apparently commandeered the entire balcony of the Nokia Theatre adjacent to Staples for its coverage, while positions on special high-risers near the arena’s entrance were reportedly going for $10,000 a pop to assorted well-heeled broadcasters.
Among the stars signed on to entertain those inside are Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Kobe Bryant, Smokey Robinson, Brooke Shields, Jennifer Hudson, Lionel Richie, Usher and John Mayer.
Spontaneous street parties are likely to pop up among the estimated 500,000 or so outside who also want to celebrate the life of the pop star.
Most of the major broadcast networks will cover the memorial live, as will the cable news nets and MTV, VH1, BET and TV One. The news networks will stream live coverage online, as will Hulu.
E! plans to cover the service and devote a full day of programming to Jackson. MTV will rebrand the channel “Michael Jackson Television” on Aug. 1, the cable network’s 28th birthday.
But it’s not just music lovers who will be glued to their screens watching the tributes to Jackson: Money lenders too will be assessing the level of fan fervor for signs of just how lucrative the pop star’s estate is and just how widely his image, and his assets, can be exploited.
Almost certainly, revenue from memorabilia and what-not will be healthy enough to offset a half-billion dollars in known debts — and then some. How much that sum eventually becomes can only be guessed at, but with scalped tickets to the memorial going for $5,000 on eBay and Craigslist, a sketch by Jackson of Mickey Mouse fetching $200,000, downloads of songs dominating the Internet sites and reissues and unreleased recordings all ripe for plucking, it’s expected to be humongous.
And, like the Elvis, Marilyn or even Lucille Ball industries, it will go on for decades.
Not that the whole circus surrounding the King of Pop is new to Wall Street: A number of financial firms ponied up millions over the past two decades to help bankroll the singer’s lavish lifestyle or kick-start his troubled career.
Now, the Street is in line with other creditors and business partners awaiting word on the state of Jackson’s murky financial empire. Colony Capital, Fortress Investments and Barclays Bank poured tens of millions into the singer’s coffers, the likes of which was spent on everything from paintings of cherubs by 19th century French artist Adolphe Bouguereau to costumes for Bubbles the chimpanzee.
The cash allowed Jackson, who went on buying binges at malls from Vegas to Dubai, to maintain an over-the-top lifestyle. (Colony, for example, bailed Jackson out of debt a few years ago by taking a majority stake in the Neverland range, and it helped fund the 50-date concert tour that Jackson was rehearsing for when he died June 25.)
“There’s always been a nexus between the worlds of celebrity and finance, and it’s only grown in recent years,” Ian Peck, president of Art Capital Group, told the AP. His firm specializes in making loans to celebrities and rich clients who put up artwork as collateral.
Jackson’s lenders seemed to get a kick out of having a big celebrity as a client despite his checkered finances and 2005 child molestation trial, Peck said. The pop star also benefited from the same credit boom that ensnared ordinary Americans and led to the financial meltdown.
“Today, I don’t think he’d be able to obtain the same kinds of loans,” Peck said.
James Hibberd and the Associated Press contributed to this report.