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Internet Telethons and Cause-Related Marketing

Years ago when I was still writing the Children’s Miracle Network Telethon (CMN), I would get a call about every month or so from someone who was interested in producing a telethon and wanted to learn how CMN did it.

Of course I did my level best to dissuade them because who needs the competition, right?

But beyond that everyone that called thought that producing a telethon was a matter of setting up a telephone bank and hiring a camera crew.

If only.

They didn’t know about the $2 million budget, the crew of hundreds, the satellite uplinks and downlinks, the celebrity contract riders, the script of 40,000 words, and a million (no exaggeration) other details.

I'll never forget leading a CNN producer around backstage at the Children's Miracle Network telethon at Disney World and the look of awe on her face. It really was a big, complicated show.

All these years later, telethons are breathing their last, the victim of 500-channel universe and other modern challenges I’ve highlighted before.

Except that as I write this there is a multi-hour telethon called “From the Frontlines” from Moveamericaforward.org streaming on the Internet with the stated intent to send the ‘world’s largest care package’ to the US Troops in Iraq. Their fundraising goal is $500,000.

And they’re doing it on the cheap. It airs exclusively on the Internet on ustream.tv. The format is basically televised talk radio broken up by some interstitials. It looks like they have three cameras. Certain guests also have their own webcams. There’s no studio, just an office with a couple of cheap ENG lighting kits. The ustream.tv site frames the video with a live comment feed, making it more interactive than the time Elvis shot his TV when Robert Goulet appeared on the Mike Douglas Show.

It’s a product of Melanie Morgan and Michelle Malkin and a large group of the right of center talking heads and pundits in the United States. The telethon was promoted heavily on conservative talk radio.

This is a first year effort and I can’t find any evidence of sponsors, the bete noire of the few remaining few televised telethons. And, truth be told, because they’re doing this on the cheap, they don’t need sponsors the same way Jerry Lewis’s MDA Telethon does, to cite just one.

The sound is bad. The video is worse. And it's bogging down my Internet connection. Plus, the giving mechanism (which requires you to go to a different website) is awkward to say the least. But by damn I think I’ve just seen the future of telethons!

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