After decades on broadcast — most recently on Fox — the 71st Miss Universe competition is the latest TV event making the move to streaming. The Roku Channel has sealed a one-year deal to be the official English-language home for Miss Universe, which will stream live from New Orleans on January 14, 2023, at 7 p.m. ET.
Among the changes in the move: Steve Harvey, who had hosted for five years as part of the pageant’s deal with Fox (with the exception of 2021, when that pact was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic), also won’t be back. According to Miss Universe Organization CEO Amy Emmerich, a new host — expected to be a female — will be announced in the coming weeks.
“My goal was really to make sure we led with a female lens this next go-around,” Emmerich says. “We should hopefully have that to talk about soon… It was a rare opportunity to be able to kind of restart in a whole new place.”
Emmerich had just joined Miss Universe in January, and has been busy looking at ways to reform and refresh the organization. And with the U.S. English-language deal up (it continues to also air in Spanish on Telemundo), Emmerich said she was looking to reimagine Miss Universe’s global distribution.
“I would love to offer one large package and go global because the global audience is so massive, but we’re tied up in a lot of different territory deals,” she says. “That won’t end for another year. So, we said, OK, the best thing that can happen for this brand is go to a place that’s also starting anew. Right away WME suggested Roku. I’m familiar with [Roku originals head] David [Eilenberg] from the past and he had just joined there. From the first conversation, you kind of knew it was the place to be. Roku just always had a personality. They really are consistent with who they are, even with the original programming to come. And Miss Universe needed take some chances.”
The news comes as Roku continues to expand its stable of original offerings on its ad-supported service, including the second season of Nasim Pedrad’s comedy “Chad” and the recent TV movie “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.” And it also joins a list of live broadcast events that have previously migrated to streaming, including “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC to Disney+) and the ACM Awards (CBS to Amazon Prime Video).
“As more and more marquee events move to streaming, we’re excited to bring these exclusive experiences for free to our audience,” said Roku programming VP Rob Holmes.
Because it’s on a streamer, the Miss Universe event will be seen live across the country. Emmerich said Miss Universe and Roku are currently looking at unique ways to play with commercial breaks and other telecast elements.
“Now that we have Roku, what exclusively can we do for them during this commercial space that that audience can feel like they’re seeing more of the inside, behind the scenes,” she says. “I joined here hoping to bring a level of transparency that I don’t think exists at the organization and Roku kind of loved that idea. It’s also a great time to just watch the data and see what works.”
The new U.S. TV partner and new CEO aren’t the only fresh starts for Miss Universe this year. The organization was just purchased in October by Thailand-based JKN Global Group PCL (run by CEO Anne Jukapong Jakrajutatip) from previous owner IMG.
“The first woman to own the brand, that’s going to be a change in and of itself for 70 years,” Emmerich says. “And I think especially because of Anne’s backstory, and what she feels transformational leadership is and how she can really fight for a future borne by women a little bit more than possibly a man at IMG could. I think she came in wanting to know early on, what was the vision on how we want to shape shift the brand. I think she sees it as a year-round more than one-woman, one-night event.
“I thought that was a great sign that she was asking, what are we providing women? What else do they gain when they go through the organization? It’s not about winning the title, what else are they going to walk away with? How are we providing a service that we can create more future leaders? I think she’s a visionary. She’s got a lot of ideas and she takes a lot of risks. The idea that we can beta test a lot more in Thailand before rolling it out across the globe, I think is actually going to be easier than trying to beta test in the States and then roll it out.”
Emmerich admits that there wasn’t much transparency in the Miss Universe selection criteria, and the explanation of the job that comes with being Miss Universe was also vague. She began her tenure as CEO trying to redefine all of that, while also looking at the global franchisees — currently at about 55% run by women, she says. (“I thought it was important to highlight that.”) Emmerich doesn’t shy away from calling Miss Universe a “pageant,” but she does refuse to call the women appearing from countries around the world “contestants.”
“This one’s a big argument always at the office,” she says. “Because I really see it as a live job interview. They’re already winners in their local or national pageants. They are the title holder of that place, Miss Universe Venezuela, Miss Universe Columbia and so on. So, it really comes down to who will get the job for Miss Universe. Language matters and how we refer to them. So, a lot of that will shape shift. And then just finding more time to learn about their stories. Most likely it will be the top 16 and packages around who these women are, what they faced, and really trying to highlight different stories from around the world. How these women stand for their culture, their countries. It’s not about beauty anymore. I’m hoping people start to recognize the first of these changes.”
But Emmerich says she’s also cognizant of not moving too fast — which is why the swimsuit competition will remain.
“I did not eradicate swimwear,” she says. “That’s a big question. It was pretty obvious that that moment was more about the power of their voice, even more than the power of their body. But being able to own the power of your sexuality was really interesting to me. And as a woman, we basically are raised to hate our bodies from birth. And in this moment, they own it. And they own it in an interesting way. Of course, I’d love more body positivity and plus-size women to be represented but I think that’s going to take a little time. I think we need to show that audience that we have a safe space for them. And that’s the work that we have to do.”
Miss Universe president Paula Shugart and Emmerich are also looking to improve transparency when it comes to the voting process.
“In the past they have put the scores on the television screens, but the audience is so aggressive, they will basically bully the selection criteria if they don’t like the score on the moment,” she says. “We had to take that away and do something that was at least transparent for the delegates who are performing. But yes, it has to evolve. We work with Ernst and Young, which has been an eye opener for me, thinking about all the different ways that we can select someone but the ways that you need to mathematically prove that. So hopefully we’ll have a little bit more to talk about in January.”
Emmerich has learned the importance of this as the Miss Universe Organization continues to investigate this year’s Miss USA pageant. After contestants this year accused Miss USA of rigging its results, Miss Universe has suspended its contract with Miss Brands (which runs Miss USA under a licensing agreement).
“There was some questioning around the judgment and the judging,” she says. “I’m able to say, we’re going to stop right now and make sure we take a true look at this. I did not want social media dictating the outcome. I wanted to get some facts behind it before we made any decisions.”
Emmerich says she also expects to turn some heads over the decision to allow delegates from both Russia and Ukraine into this year’s Miss Universe. (It’s still unclear if Miss Russia will be represented on the show, however.)
“Miss Universe Organization tries to say apolitical, but we do believe in pushing and creating a platform for the delegates’ voices as loud as they may be, for whatever it is they believe,” she says. “I didn’t feel like that we should basically hold Miss Russia accountable for something that was out of her control. So that’s why we said yes.”
The 71st Miss Universe event will be held at New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where almost 90 women representing countries from around the world. Besides swimwear, categories include interviews, evening gown and community impact. The 70th Miss Universe, Harnaaz Sandhu, will crown her successor at the end of the night.