NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- "Glee" is ostensibly a show about a group of high-school misfits and nerds whose common love of song helps them get through the trials of adolescence. Yet in the real world, the cast -- and its songs -- are winning a popularity contest.
Tied to the show's storylines, the cast's performances become so sellable that the program's production studio, News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox, believes it could have a new TV-show model on its hands, not unlike the kind of revenue juggernaut "American Idol" introduced.
"In addition to the normal market opportunities that a highly watched show brings you, we have this entirely additional aspect to the show -- the music," said Gary Newman, one of the chairmen of Twentieth Century Fox Television. A "Glee" tour is in the works, and producers also have solo albums in mind for various cast members. Licensed merchandise could be possible by next fall.
So far, the show has spawned more than 4.2 million downloads of songs featured in its episodes, as well as two gold albums. Viewers may be familiar with the cast's takes on such tunes as Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" or Beyoncé Knowles' "Single Ladies."
Thanks to new digital technology, "Glee" could set a precedent for monetizing TV programs. Yes, TV shows have long thrown off licensed T-shirts and lunchboxes, DVDs and syndicated reruns. But there's something to be said for taking pieces of content generated within a program and selling them as separate products. "American Idol" has given rise to this way of thinking: A contestant sings, makes it big and starts a music career, and the show and its producers have a hand in all the content generated. But what if backers of scripted programs attempted to devise a formula all their own?
Making the genre work
Of course, "Glee's" fortunes aren't certain. Let's not forget, many other programs have attempted to meld songs with stories (does anyone recall "Cop Rock" or "Viva Laughlin?") and failed to catch on with the viewing public. But "Glee's" mid-season finale, aired Dec. 9, attracted about 9.91 million viewers according to Nielsen, a nice uptick from the approximately 8.96 million who watched its debut in early September. Top advertisers in the program include Walmart Stores, AT&T, Warner Brothers and Apple, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
The "Glee'" model represents a new twist in the marriage of TV shows and music. Typically, songs are used to draw viewer interest in specific moments of an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" or "Gossip Girl." Music labels rush to get new acts woven into hit programs, and the TV shows get fresh tunes that add sheen to the production. Indeed, the CW regularly uses new songs in its shows, and often drives viewers to its website to buy them. In exchange, said Leonard Richardson, the network's VP-music, the network often gets a reduced fee for use of the song.
But that's usually where such stuff ends. "Glee" produces its own music, which can then be sold for revenue. Twentieth and the record label that distributes and markets the music, Sony Music's Columbia, share in the revenue and the studio puts the money back into the cost of producing the show at present.
Many programs take as many as five years to reach profitability. That's when revenue from syndication usually starts to kick in, though sales of DVDs that collect episodes of various shows have altered the formula. But as "Glee" starts to make money, the hope is that music sales will create more profit than would be possible for a more-traditional program.
To turn hope into reality, the studio has already taken steps to keep those performances under its control. Back in February 2009, 20th Century Fox screened the "Glee" pilot for a bevy of record executives, only to choose Sony's Columbia because executives there understood "the primary asset here is the show," said Dana Walden, co-chair, 20th Century Fox Television. "Any individual recording career that comes out of this is icing on the cake, but no individual effort can be greater than the sum of what's going on in the series."
"Glee" has other things working in its favor. Because the songs are performed by the show's cast, producers only have to pay for publishing rights to the tunes, not performance rights. And thanks to the use of multiple songs in each episode, producers and Columbia Records are able to release those tunes strategically to goose interest in each episode and to keep fans interested in the days between airings of new programs, said Rob Stringer, chairman of the Columbia/Epic Label Group.
"Glee" is on hiatus, with original episodes slated to return in April. In the meantime, the producers are focused on building the program's base of fans, which they say are known as "Gleeks."
Something to sing aboutWhereas shows such as "Grey's Anatomy" weave in pop music and can boost a band, "Glee" produces its own music that can be sold for revenue. And sales are going strong.
- "Glee: The Music, Volume 2" has sold 472,086 copies to date and is currently No. 22 on Billboard's Top 200 chart
- "Glee: The Music, Volume 1" has sold 677,571 copies to date and is currently No. 27 on Billboard's Top 200 chart
- To date, there have been 4,284,998 downloads of "Glee" songs
- Glee songs that have made the Top 25 on iTunes (with the highest chart position reached):
- Don't Stop Believin' (No. 1)
- Somebody To Love (No. 3)
- Alone (No. 8)
- Take a Bow (No. 11)
- Sweet Caroline (No. 11)
- Keep Holding On (No. 12)
- My Life Would Suck Without You (No. 9)
- It's My Life/Confession Pt II (No. 9)
- Halo/Walkin On Sunshine (No. 12)
- Don't Rain On My Parade (No. 13)
- Last Christmas (No. 14 on Top 25, No. 1 in holiday songs)
- Maybe This Time (No. 15)
- You Can't Always Get What You Want (No. 15)
- Defying Gravity (Cast Version) (No. 16)
- Smile (Cover of Charlie Chaplin Song) (No. 20)
- I'll Stand by You (No. 21)
- Endless Love (No. 24)
Source: 20th Century Fox