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Absolutely Live And Right Now

The media trend of the decade is right now. People want that drama at the moment they want it and they want to be in it. Delivering that means lots of bandwidth, literally and figuratively. For some media watchers live television is over. For others it isnít just the future itís the only future.

is it live?The season finale of reality-talent-fashion show Germany’s Next Topmodel broadcast live from Mannheim was abruptly cancelled in mid-May because of a security threat. Three days later a bomb scare forced cancellation of a live episode of Deutschland sucht den Superstar (Germany seeks their Superstar). Neither resulted in anything worse than rescheduling but occasionally dreadful things happen. The iconic German variety-talent show Wetten, dass? never recovered from an incident that left an amateur stuntman paralysed from the neck down. It’s the very nature of being in that dramatic moment.

“Of course, we will continue with live shows,” said Sat.1 spokesperson Diana Schardt for the Tagesspiegel article titled “Are live shows on television at an end?” (May 17). “A very special charm is there.” Germany’s Next Topmodel is produced by ProSiebenSat.1 Media production house RedSeven Entertainment. In keeping with the showbiz tradition that the show must go on, the delayed finale was broadcast two weeks later from New York City, not live, even though the red ‘vote now’ button was prominently displayed. The season ender was watched by 2.3 million people, according to AGF, quite a bit lower than 3 million for last year’s season finale.

Live reality-talent shows abound, tele-voting for or against participants creating, hopefully, a large degree of viewer attachment. The biggest brand in this TV genre is, arguably, the annual European Song Contest (ESC). This year’s ESC final from Vienna drew a worldwide audience estimated by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) of 195 million. The EBU and Austrian public broadcaster ORF co-produced the event, which was won by Swedish singer Mans Zelmerlow, backed by extraordinary special effects. Forty European public broadcasters carried the live show plus channels in Australia, New Zealand, China and, by delay, Canada. (See EBU presser here)

Next year’s ESC will move to Sweden for the 6th time, hosted by public broadcaster SVT, which bears the production costs. “At least they can afford it,” said a grumbly UK writer in the Guardian (May 24). ORF spent, reportedly, €30 million to stage the event, part of which was certainly offset by local sponsor contributions plus ticket and souvenir sales. Austrian Airlines dutifully decorated one of their airplanes.

Russia’s State broadcaster Channel One spent, according to official budget figures, €31.5 million hosting the 2009 ESC in Moscow with Russian Federation sources spotting another €22 million for, reportedly, the most expensive ESC hosting ever. Since the Great Recession other broadcasters have been far more frugal.

US network Fox cancelled American Idol, presented live, in May after 13 seasons as ratings plunged. Costs for the show (read: talent) had reached the stratosphere. Critics have forecast the imminent demise of the reality-talent TV format for at least a decade. In truth, shows come and go.

Beyond the reality-talent genre live television is dominated by sports events, news events, sports-news events and annual TV awards shows. Live sports, highlighted by recent football news, is migrating ever so deliberately to pay-TV channels. Live coverage of news events can be found on every conceivable platform, broadcast TV’s dominance slipping to the inevitable favor of social media video news platforms like Periscope.

US networks NBC and Fox are experimenting with live TV performances of well-known musical theater productions. NBC’s successful offering of The Sound of Music in 2013 and Peter Pan in 2014 led to a live production of Wiz, to be broadcast later this year. Fox will be offering a live performance of Grease in January 2016. ABC (US) offered two live episodes of daytime drama General Hospital last week.

Spectacular in its own right, US and UK public broadcasters PBS and BBC are co-producing a live 3-day natural history event Big Blue Live in late summer. Time zones being undeniable, the UK version will run during the last week of August and the US version a week later, one 3-hour show for the East coast and another for the West coast. The location is Monterey Bay, near San Francisco. Main actors are whales, seals, dolphins and maybe a shark or two.

Live broadcasts once dominated all television; radio, too, for that matter. More than a generation after the last live daytime drama was broadcast television is ever so cautiously returning with more than tried and tired reality-talent shows. Live TV creates an event new to Millennials now accustomed to binge watching.


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