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People's Choice Awards Embraces Social Media

Procter & Gamble Brings in Mark Burnett; Broadens Voting Power

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Procter & Gamble is going out of its way to get more people involved in its 36-year-old People's Choice Awards, a sign of how TV producers are quickly tweaking the way they make their shows to cater to emerging viewer habits.

Mark Burnett will helm this year's 'People's Choice Awards' broadcast.
Mark Burnett will helm this year's 'People's Choice Awards' broadcast.
This year, P&G is trying to rework the program's tried-and-true formula. The consumer-products giant, which maintains a TV-production arm, has enlisted reality-TV impresario Mark Burnett to helm this year's broadcast, loosened up and broadened the voting process, restructured the flow of the awards program itself and worked diligently to fan enthusiasm for the program well before it hits CBS Wednesday evening.

"In the past, we followed the rule of the other award-show formats," said Fred Nelson, president of "People's Choice," which is owned by P&G and produced with the assistance of Publicis Groupe's MediaVest media-buying firm. "We have the opportunity to really shake this up."

But there's much more going on than simply determining whether fans give a nod to ABC's "Flash Forward" or CBS's "The Good Wife" as their favorite drama of 2009. Simply put, makers of TV programs are learning that seeding the show among fans must take place months, not just weeks, in advance. The hope is that by using new strains of social-media, TV producers will create new momentum among hard-core fans, which can then spill over to others -- generating new excitement for even the most buttoned-down video properties.

"Obviously, we'd like to get a good rating," said Mr. Nelson, but the changes in promoting the program and its structure are aimed at "preserving this for the future."

Despite its long tenure on the public airwaves, "People's Choice" has seen its ratings decline over the long haul -- along with nearly every other major TV property except for the Super Bowl. Where the event reached between 13 million and 15.5 million viewers each year between 2000 and 2004, its reach more recently has wavered between 6 million and 11.4 million viewers. The show saw a noticeable ratings boost in 2009, when viewership increased to 9.4 million from about 6 million in 2008, when TV was suffering from a writers' strike.

Of more concern for P&G, perhaps, is that "People's Choice" represents its last ongoing broadcast-TV property. For decades, P&G produced the popular soap operas "Guiding Light" and "As The World Turns"; "Light" was dimmed last year and CBS has said "World" will stop spinning come September. All the programs were once used to hawk and promote P&G's many household goods. In fact, you'll still see some P&G products woven into the proceedings of the awards.

Last year, the program was opened to a non-P&G brand: Mars's M&Ms. This year, Kraft Foods' DiGiorno Pizza will play a part. But P&G's own goods will still surround the show, with some beauty products woven into in-program segments and Tide sponsoring a web-based fashion recap after the awards show airs.

Backers already have new hopes. According to Mr. Burnett, more than 60 million people are expected to vote on the entrants, a significant surge above the 15 million that typically took part in years past. For this year's program, organizers have abandoned a years-old practice of using a panel to determine nominees, then letting the public determine a winner. This time, the public has also been determining the nominees, which has spurred chatter about the program much sooner than for previous events.

The actual telecast will seem different, too, said Mr. Burnett. "You'll probably see a less formal vibe than in years gone by," he said. "My team enjoys going out to commercial from backstage."

"You've got this backstage feel" that will make the event appear "dressed down," he added.

What's more, organizers have for the first time made it possible for average fans to purchase tickets to the event, meaning the hoi-polloi can actually attend -- not just smiling celebrity faces.

"The show has much more variety, it's fast-paced, whereas in the past it was really about reading the nominees and hearing the acceptances," the popular producer said. These days, that sort of stuff has been taken care of with social media, leaving the program with a chance to be more freewheeling that older audiences will remember.

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