But judging by the wobbly ratings, “Rising” didn’t fulfill Groban’s promise. And despite a pretty heady premise that aimed to turn what would have otherwise been a standard primetime music-competition series into an interactive extravaganza, the reason why the series came up short was readily apparent.
What “Rising” was supposed to do was shift some of the power from the judges (Ke$ha, Ludacris, Brad Paisley) to the viewers, who were able to vote at home for their favorite singers in real time via a branded app. Instead of waiting for a results show on another night, “Rising” shrewdly allows the audience to deliver an instant verdict through technology that closes the loop between the smartphone and the TV set.
To the credit of ABC and producer Keshet Broadcasting, the app worked wonderfully in its maiden voyage, which is more than a similar second-screen TV gambit, NBC’s “Million Second Quiz,” could boast after a doomed launch last last year. “Rising” also did a good job explaining on air how viewers could do the voting, which enabled a thumbs up from 70% of the audience to vote a contestant through to the next round.
Even the way “Rising” managed to bridge the Pacific time zone with a separate voting mechanism was an inspired idea (though billing the show as being “live” at the beginning of the program was a cheat). Keshet hasn’t had to deal with this issue in other regions; the Israeli format is being aggressively shopped around the world.
But executing a concept well doesn’t matter when the concept is flawed, and that’s where “Rising” comes up short. There will be plenty who will agree with reviews like Variety’s that the premiere was just dull, but the on-air format isn’t really the problem.
The problem is that the interactivity at the heart of the show’s marketing is so slight in the actual program. The votes are reflected in a massive wall of screens that flicker with images of the individual viewers who vote; that wall rises to reveal the contestant when the 70% level is reached. To give viewers the opportunity to actually see themselves reflected on the show they are watching is a powerful notion — that’s why it is central to “Rising’s” marketing campaign. But the voters’ images are shown so fleetingly that it barely registers.
The wall-of-screens gimmick only pays lip service to interactivity, failing to do what is really needed to get viewers truly feeling a sense of connection to the show. No, a primetime series doesn’t have much time to reflect the potential millions that could be clicking on an app at any given time. But surely there is an unscripted format that will figure out how to do more to integrate viewer involvement in a way that can be a real draw and be accomplished in a way that doesn’t overwhelm less tech-savvy viewers.
Real-time voting reflected live is cool, don’t get me wrong. But there has to be more of a lure than being an anonymous voter who might be lucky enough to catch a millisecond glimpse of their face on TV. Why not call out a viewer’s name? Why not figure out some kind of prize? How about some kind of play-along feature in the app, which may have worked smoothly but its one-note functionality gets boring really quickly. It calls into question the whole notion of even creating such an app; voting could be easily accomplished on the social-media platforms where the fan activity already exists, as “The X Factor” did with Twitter.
There’s so much more that can be done to make the viewers feel they are a part of the show, and when someone besides “Rising” and “Quiz” cracks that code, it’s going to be a true breakthrough.