What exactly does Idol give back?

Find my latest American Idol article here.

I concede there is nobility in Idol Gives Back, and it is a good thing.  It would be easy, and just as appropriate for the producers of the show to ignore charities altogether.  That’s what 95% of the television programs out there do.  It’s not as if the NFL uses the power of the Super Bowl to flex its muscles for charity the way that Idol does, though it does promote the United Way.  However, with a title like “Idol Gives Back,” I would expect the network to sacrifice something for the effort they are promoting.

Last year this episode gathered over $70,000,000 worth of contributions, a laudable effort by any standard.  And I am happy to see that they have spread the money to many different charities, most of which have very practical solutions to real problems.  I did not see one ‘green’ charity in the group, and I was happy that they avoided this political stumbling block.

But, I was still bothered by the question: “What exactly does Idol give back?”  We were reminded several times during the program that the various trips that added to the production of the show and the videos that accompanied them were produced or paid for by various sponsors, and many of the people working the event were volunteers.

I just wonder if it is appropriate to make so much money off of an event that is billed as charity.  I saw one source that had Idol selling commercial time during last year’s episode for $775,000 per 30 second spot.  If this is true, without factoring in any increase in pricing this year, the 82 spots aired during the 2½ hour program would have made $63,550,000 for the network.  That is almost as much money as the entire effort raised for charity.  Last year, Newscorp, the parent company of Fox, ‘gave back’ to the event in the form of a $5,000,000 donation.  That’s great, but it’s not even a tithe compared to the revenue they made off of the event.

What a win-win for the producers of this show.  They are able to get even more filthy rich while looking philanthropic at the same time.  It must be good to be on top of that mountain right now.


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