Michael’s Death Marks a New Direction in Media

I remember that day I set my first vinyl platter down on my parents’ record player in our living room high up on Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver. My Dad shot weird looks at me as I white-grooved to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and my mom just shook her head and plugged her ears.

It was a watershed moment for me: the first time I openly enjoyed music that wasn’t a parental hand-me-down. (Can you say Beatles?)

But that was just a time and a place and I soon came to learn how freakishly weird Mr. Jackson was. And so, with the best of intentions, I careened into a long period of nothing but punk rock to cleanse myself. Once the Dead Kennedys were rattling our windows, however, I’m sure my parents longed for more Michael Jackson.

To me, Michael Jackson is this sort of freakish blip on the radar of popular media. I don’t understand how anyone can actually deeply love his music — it’s so artificial. To my ear, it feels like a melodic face lift. And I don’t think that, for at least the past decade, I’ve had a conversation with anyone about Michael Jackson that involved anything more than a one-line joke and a monosyllabic scoffing response.

Michael Jackson, for all intents and purposes, was dead a very long time ago.

Yet, immediately after his death, the mass perception of Michael Jackson went from 52% neutral to 47% positive. It seems Jackson had to physically perish in order to regain the lost love of his public.

So I’m totally blown away by the fact that his memorial service is now recognized as one of the great media events in history and that it represents a turning point for integration between traditional media and the online world.

More than 31 million people tuned into the memorial service broadcast, which was carried by virtually every network. Meanwhile, news of Jackson’s death shattered records for online dialogue with fully 8% of web-based conversations exploring the subject. The previous record was held by President Obama’s inauguration with 5%.

Most interestingly, though, during the memorial service, nearly 15% of conversations referenced traditional television broadcasts. This represents a high point in media crossover, as hundreds of thousands of consumers engaged with both television and web simultaneously. Twitter led the way, followed by the choreographed pan-media integration of CNN and Facebook.

Personally, I laid low. Instead of paying any attention to the real-world memorial I tuned into Tim Siedell‘s live-tweet parody of what it should have been. My favourite moments from his service include,

Now that’s the Michael Jackson I remember.