Be an Instant 'Millionaire'

AOL users message answers into show

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

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.”