"Who are the Beatles?" The question ricocheted across Twitter during the 2014 Grammy Awards, where Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reunited to perform.
It's an absurd question, even from those barely old enough to tweet. The Beatles' official Twitter account has more than 2 million followers. Paul McCartney's own Twitter following tops 1.7 million. The band, which broke up 44 years ago, sold nearly 1 million albums and more than 2.7 million digital songs last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan. They remain a constant presence on radio. "Love," the Cirque du Soleil show based around Beatles music, continues to be a popular draw in Las Vegas.
As far as the media and marketers are concerned, Beatlemania is alive and well on the half-century anniversary of the band's U.S. debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The Fab Four have appeared on recent magazine covers, including Rolling Stone. Time Inc. brands Time, People and Life are publishing books on the band. The iTunes store is selling recently remastered Beatles' albums. Vans has designed Beatles-themed shoes. Bloomingdale's is selling a collection of Beatles-inspired items -- from cuff links to suit jackets -- created by British designers. Target is running TV commercials to promote the "Beatles 1" album, a compilation of the band's chart-toppers that first hit stores in 2000.
The ultimate celebration will occur Sunday, Feb. 9 -- 50 years to the day of the Ed Sullivan performance -- with a two-hour special featuring Paul and Ringo on CBS, the network on which the debut aired. "It's a quintessential event in pop-culture history and part of our corporate history," said Jack Sussman, exec VP-specials, music and live events at CBS Entertainment. The concert features musicians old and new performing Beatles hits, with archival footage of the band, according to Mr. Sussman, who declined to name sponsors. Paul and Ringo will once again share the stage.
Of course, it's a different media world than 1964: The Beatles' "Sullivan" show appearance drew more than 73 million viewers -- that's about five times larger than a high-rated show today.