Be an Instant 'Millionaire'
AOL users message answers into show
By Paige Albiniak -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/12/2004 7:00:00 PM
Looking for ways to gain buzz, Buena Vista's Who Wants To Be a Millionaire added a new lifeline this fall: letting instant-messagers get into the act.
Whenever a contestant gets stumped and decides to ask the audience, AOL's instant-messagers respond. Some 30,000 members quickly signed up for MillionaireIM; today, 270,000 are primed.
Both executive producer Michael Davies and host Meredith Vieira love the new feature, since it gets contestants nervous. “It's great when the IMers disagree with the studio audience. You leave the person in the hot seat in the middle of a real dilemma,” Davies says.
Vieira initially doubted what instant messaging (IM) would bring to the show, but says it has integrated itself well. And she likes that it confuses the contestant. “I assumed the two audiences would be close in terms of their choices,” she says, “but often they are not.”
The instant-messager feature enhances the feeling of home participation, adds Ed Fish, senior vice president of desktop messaging at AOL. IM users average 6½ hours a day online; that gives Millionaire plenty of opportunities for polling.
In its third year, Millionaire's ratings continue to grow, jumping 7% in rating and 14% in share from October to November in the metered markets. Season-to-date, the show's national household ratings have risen 3%, and it has jumped 8% among women 18-49, 11% in women 18-34 and 11% in men 25-54. (It has fallen about 6% among women 25-54.)
Millionaire took a hit this fall when stations in 38 of the metered markets moved it to accommodate syndication newcomers, such as Paramount's The Insider or NBC Universal's The Jane Pauley Show.
That strategy has backfired, says Lloyd Komesar, Buena Vista's executive vice president of strategic research: “In 76% of these moves, it has cost stations ratings points.”
Some stations have switched their programming back. In November, Scripps Howard's WMAR Baltimore moved Millionaire back to 4:30 p.m. from 4, switching with Insider. A similar situation occurred in Portland, Ore., where Fisher's KETU moved Pauley to 3 p.m. and returned Millionaire to 4.
“On average, when Insider replaced Millionaire, it has not yet performed up to Millionaire's levels,” says Garnett Losak, vice president and director of programming at Petry Media Corp. “What I look at is: Are the people who watched last year still watching it? Are more people finding it? The answer to both questions is yes.”
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