It’s 6:13 AM EDT.
One million seconds from the moment this column posted, the face of TV game shows – and possibly television as we know it -- could change forever, thanks to what clearly is one of the most ambitious TV programs ever to make it to network prime-time TV: NBC Universal’s “The Million Second Quiz.”
In NBCU’s own words, the one million seconds game show event will be “…the first fully convergent television experience, where viewers will be able to play along at home in real-time and sync to the live primetime broadcast.”
I’m seriously excited about this. It pushes participation viewing to the next, necessary level, first pioneered by programs like “Test the Nation” and “Let’s Ask America.”
And formulaically, the program bears the hallmarks of a game-changer:
Talent? Ryan Seacrest; none more proven in TV today. Check.
Producers? The brilliant teams at All3 Media America, Studio Lambert and Universal Television. Check.
Promotion? Multi-month lead, heavy network TV saturation, social media support. Check.
Genre? Game show; perhaps the most time-honored of all, dating back to classics including “You Bet Your Life “(watch it for kicks!). Check.
Prize? Massive – positioned as the largest prize in TV history. Check.
Distribution? Network television. Check.
Second screen tie-in? To qualify to appear on-air, viewers compete for an on-air seat via mobile and Web apps. Check.
Compelling, live content? “MSQ” iis aired live from a special set positioned in the heart of Manhattan – the center of post-Rome civilization. Check.
So, one might ask, “What could possibly stop this show from becoming the most-watched program in TV history?”
To answer that, we need to look back a mere 443 million seconds, when the last true game-changer, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” hit the airwaves at ABC in 1999. “Millionaire” single-handedly heralded the return of prime-time game shows to network television, by asking a rhetorical question that resounded with everyone with a pulse – and some semblance of hope.
In its first year, approximately 75% of the entire country reportedly watched “Millionaire” at least once; that’s around 225 million viewers.
Yet, the show that netted nearly $1 billion in profits lost significant audience share quickly, and ultimately moved to syndication here in the U.S. in less than three years.
Some claim viewer burnout. Possibly, but ultimately, the premise of the show – you can be a millionaire – moved people from inspiration, to aspiration, to exasperation.
Bottom line, not a single viewer became a millionaire watching the show, and only a handful of on-screen contestants became millionaires themselves.
Remember, too, that “Millionaire’s” heyday was pre-DVR. If the proposition for watching the show was “watch somebody win a million dollars,” the ability to do so was more likely linked to live viewing.
Not so today. Now, nearly 50% of the viewing audience can DVR it first, Google it second, and watch it only if somebody wins. And that assumes nobody has posted the winning clip to a social media or video sharing site.
The big questions, therefore, for “MSQ” are simple:
Why should I watch it, live – if I can’t win, live?
And, the question nobody wants to talk about:
Why should I watch the commercials?We’ll know in 999,700 seconds… 999,699… 999,698… and counting.