The Muscular Dystrophy Association’s (MDA) annual Labor Day telethon airs this Sunday with a new name – the MDA Show of Strength. That’s not the only change.
If you’re rooting from the sofa to see the national tote board’s numbers spin higher, forget it. The now three-hour show is mostly taped with a few local cut-ins and no national numbers. Local pledges will be announced during cut-ins.
“We’re looking at viewer habits today, and molding our show accordingly,” said MDA’s Executive Vice President of Business Development Kevin Moran. “We wanted to be on the primetime hours, and by consolidating when we’re being viewed, we’ll keep the viewers.”
The Tucson, Ariz.-based MDA had switched the show’s format from the venerable 21 1/2-hours telethon to six hours last year. It had both live and taped elements during 2011. The local cutaways will be live this year, but the national show is prerecorded.
This year marks the second telethon without longtime host, comedian Jerry Lewis. Show of Strength will have segment hosts, among them Lou Ferrigno, Khloe Kardashian and Nancy O’Dell. “I love the direction we’ve gone in,” said Moran. “It gives us a way to rally support from a number of different celebrities.” He added that the taped format allowed MDA and performers to better coordinate their schedules and film segments over three days.
Musical acts Carrie Underwood, Pitbull, will.i.am and Carole King will headline the show and be joined by more than a dozen other acts, as well as six individuals and families affected by muscular dystrophy and related diseases. “We look at our strength as the families we serve and the strength we give to them,” said Moran.
MDA Show of Strength will appear on almost 150 television stations and be streamed on MDA’s website. Moran said MDA previously had more than 200 local stations but that individual stations’ reach has been extended so much it made sense to pare down the number of channels to avoid market overlap.
There’s no chance of a donor calling and being lucky enough to talk to a famous volunteer. There will be no local phone banks. Telephone operations have been centralized, with in-bound calls being handled by centers in the midwest.
The telethon raised $58.9 million in 2010, the last year of the all-day format, which began in 1966. The MDA netted $139 million, or 78.1 percent of its revenue, from special events including the telethon in the fiscal year ending December 2010.
Some $61.5 million was reportedly pledged during last year’s shortened version. Dollars collected often is less than pledged. More than $60 million was brought in during MDA’s fourth quarter last year, according to Moran. He expects to exceed that this year.
MDA does not expect this year’s broadcast to garner the same amount of money, but the organization will leverage the exposure and momentum of the telethon to kick off a fourth-quarter campaign that will include grassroots fundraising efforts and sponsor contributions.
“We have a solid product we’re putting out differently,” said Moran. “It’s very different from the format of the past and we don’t want to compare it to what we achieved in the past. We’re trying to establish a new viewpoint.”