Michael Jackson and The Media

This blog has appeared in columns Ted Cohen writes for The Music Void and MIDEMNet.

by Ted Cohen

For over 40 years, Michael Jackson dominated every medium in which his music was featured. From his early days in the Jackson 5, throughout his solo career and right up to his death, he was front and center across radio, television and, later, online.

As he came out of “retirement” and his record-setting fifty nights at AEG’s O2 Arena in London this Summer, all media began ramping up their coverage of the impending event.

Television news and entertainment programs relentlessly covered the story, questioning his ability to go the distance, to reclaim his title as the King of Pop, to erase all the doubts, to break the single-venue box office record. It made for great ratings and became the new spectator sport.

Radio increased rotation of his many hits, custom digital radio services such as Pandora and Slacker offered up Michael Jackson-influenced custom stations.

Upon his untimely death, all stops were pulled. It was all Michael, all the time. CNN, MTV, ABC, BBC and TMZ, Michael was bigger than ever! Not since Diana’s death had the world come together to grieve like this. There were global vigils, specials and in-depth analyses into how it happened. Radio play jumped almost 2000%.

As reported by CultOfMac, Jackson sold a record 2.6 million digital downloads in just one week, according to preliminary sales numbers from Nielsen SoundScan.

These sales make Jackson the first artist to sell more than one million digital songs in one week. The week before his death, Jackson sold 48,000 songs, illustrating how big a jump this week’s numbers are.

Jackson’s records are dominating the charts. Six of his albums are in the top 10 Top Digital Albums chart, a record, and 25 of his singles are in the top 75 Hot Digital Songs.

But Michael was always the focus of attention since his career began. On radio, the Jackson 5 had 10 hit singles including “I Want You Back” and “ABC”. Michael released over 60 solo singles.

Over the years, broadcast Television was very good to Michael, and Michael was good for television ratings. The New York Daily News chose these 10 memorable Jackson TV appearances:

1. Jackson 5 on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (1969): The Motown group appeared regularly on the variety show, but during a 1969 visit, Sullivan presented the Jackson 5 with their first single, “I Want You Back,” which knocked B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” from the number one spot.

2. “The Jackson 5ive” (1971): The Saturday morning cartoon featured animated versions of the group, though the boys themselves weren’t involved with show.

3. “The Jacksons” (1976): Each 30-minute show included celebrity guests, singing, dancing and comedy sketches. It was the first TV series to feature an African American family.

4. “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever” (1983): During a performance of “Billie Jean,” Jackson stopped the show with the debut of his now infamous moonwalk. The performance earned the pop-star an Emmy nomination.

5. Premiere of the “Thriller” music video (1983): At the time it was made, the $500,000 13-minute music video was the most expensive video ever. It won a Grammy for Best Video in 1985.

6. Super Bowl XXVII (1993): Jackson performed a medley of “Jam,” “Billie Jean” and “Black or White,” and was later joined by 3,500 local Los Angeles children singing “Heal the World.”

7. Oprah Winfrey interview (1993): In his first interview since 1979, Jackson sat down with Oprah for a 90-minute live one-on-one, in which he denied bleaching his skin and revealed he suffered from vitiligo. ABC estimated that on that night, more than 55% of the televisions in use were tuned to the interview. ABC estimated 62.3 million people watched all or part of the sit-down.

8. “Primetime Live” interview with Diane Sawyer (1995): Appearing with wife Lisa Marie Presley, it was his first interview after first being accused of sexual abuse. The interview was watched by 60 million people.

9. 1994 MTV Video Music Awards: Jackson and then-wife Lisa Marie Presley walked onstage hand-in-hand before he proclaimed, “And just think, nobody thought this would last.” Then they kissed.

10. “Living with Michael Jackson” (2003): The documentary, which was filmed over a period of 8 months and hosted by Martin Bashir, has been fingered as one of the contributing factors that led to his child molestation trial, because of certain revelations about his relationships with several children, whom he admitted slept in the bed with him. ABC paid reportedly paid upwards of $5 million to air the documentary.

While the historical truth is that MTV resisted playing Michael Jackson’s videos, once they were onboard, it was the perfect marriage. Billy Jean, Beat It, Thriller and Bad drove MTV’s ratings through the roof and represented the “golden years” for MTV.

All media have thrived through their association with Michael Jackson. It has been a win-win partnership from the beginning. With the current resurgence, it will continue on for the foreseeable future.

Posted by Ted • Monday, July 20, 2009 .