Live Earth: Analyzing the Ratings

by Rick Rockwell

First, let’s dispense with the hype: Live Earth will not have two billion viewers as billed unless every person in China tuned into the event and throw in a few other Asian countries for good measure.

Certainly, tens of thousands turned out for the live concerts and the 10,000 or so associated events. But the big numbers always come with the mass media.

In the U.S., U.K., and Germany, where ratings were available within a day or so, the results were not good. In the U.S., Live Earth (2.7 million viewers on NBC) got trounced by 48 Hours on CBS (6.5 million viewers). A repeat of Monsters, Inc. on ABC (3.3 million viewers) also beat the concerts. In both the U.K. (where 3.1 million watched Live Earth) and U.S., broadcasts for the Concert for Diana (to honor what would have been the 46th birthday of Princess Diana) on July 1 outpaced Live Earth. In Germany, only one million watched. Later, Nielsen released data saying at least 19 million people in the U.S. had watched at least six minutes of the Live Earth concert series on either NBC, CNBC, Bravo or the Sundance Channel. But those statistics hold less meaning than the head-to-head and average viewing numbers.

The big success for Live Earth was on the internet, where MSN reported at least 30 million video streams have been downloaded so far. Live Earth also recorded at least eight million unique users streaming video on the day of the concerts, which set a record.

But why the poor performance on television for this highly promoted series? This could be another sign that the internet is now the medium of choice for music lovers rather than the more traditional television which may appeal more to older viewers. Here are a number of other reasons why viewers were hard to find on the tube:

1) July is one of the lowest rated months for television in the U.S. People would rather be outdoors instead of watching television.

2) Saturday is usually the lowest rated night of the week compared to Sunday, the highest rated night of the week, and the night the Concert for Diana was held. However, NBC’s numbers were still off from the usual three million who watch that timeslot on a Saturday.

3) Some experts feel unless a concert has acts directly connected to the Baby Boomers, it will not succeed, and NBC put most of its faith in Madonna and other performers who gained success after the 1960s.

4) Television doesn’t understand music. MTV proved this with its horrendous broadcast of Live 8 two years ago (and if MTV doesn’t understand music on TV who does?) and NBC’s poor choices for highlighting some acts in primetime only reinforced this concept.

5) The concert series may have been too politicized for some tastes. Agree with politician-turned-concert-promoter Al Gore about global warming or not, even the Baby Boomers these days don’t like to mix their music and politics.

Finally, if music is the province of the young, one might think that Live Earth would be tremendous on YouTube, but not so. Until it was yanked, the video of Chris Rock swearing during the concert at Wembley Stadium in London was the most viewed Live Earth video snippet (more than 236,000 views). The top video now is Gore’s introduction to the concert series (more than 148,000 views), and it is the only video associated with Live Earth in YouTube’s Top 100 for the week. The top performance on YouTube was a snippet from the reunion of Spinal Tap (more than 114,000 views) until it was pulled. That’s hardly an endorsement for Live Earth because many videos on YouTube accumulate millions of hits.

The final verdict: Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth was a documentary hit, but his follow-up concert series was so-so, at best.

(Evoking his days in Pink Floyd, Roger Waters' performs at Giants Stadium in New Jersey during one of the Live Earth shows, as a giant pig flies overhead; photo by Jason Rosenberg via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. Originally, the duet between Keith Urban and Alicia Keys on "Gimme Shelter" was posted here until it was pulled by YouTube. Now, please check below for a rendition of "Us and Them" by Waters.)

To read additional posts related to Live Earth please see:

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Jeff Siegel said...

I watched an hour of the NBC broadcast, and it was bad television, plain and simple. So I turned it off. I wanted to see music, not Ann Cury, Carson Daly and what seemed like an infinute number of Maybelline commercials.

Kyle Taylor said...

I was at the Joburg concert and posted footage on YouTube just a day after. It was accompanied by a blog entry praising the event and encouraging people to "Answer the Call." The video even ended with their website. This followed a 4-month campaign to get my blog readers involved in helping me be carbon neutral on my current project, with is consuming energy as a necessity to create positive output. The response? MSN & Live Earth had my clip removed from You Tube and I'm not on "probation." It's going to be hard to get people to stick with your movement when copyrighting live material is at the top of your to-do list.

Rick Rockwell said...

When the concert venues swap from live streaming and over-the-air broadcast and cable to pay-per-view, naturally some folks get heated about copyright, although in this age of viral video, one might think they would have found a way to accommodate some of this.

As noted in this post and in the original concert review on this blog, keeping video clips up from Live Earth has been a challenge.

As for Johannesburg, what few clips of the concert in South Africa that were shown In the U.S. were fairly unimpressive, at least from this perspective. Kyle, however, has a different view as a witness to the live show; you can see his review here. You can also see video of Joss Stone in Johannesburg here (while it lasts).

As for carbon neutrality, yes, some of us supported Kyle in his adventure/mission overseas. As noted here, sometimes burning carbon for a good cause is alright.

Finally, NBC said it cut the number of regular commercials for Live Earth, but you really couldn't tell, could you Jeff, with all of that mindless prattling from Carson Daly

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