Television networks are historically reticent to share big ticket programming with the web. But when it comes to raising money for a good cause, everyone is a little more charitable with their content.

This Friday, George Clooney is set to host a telethon to raise money for charity. Help for Haiti Now will air live across more than 40 different outlets, from terrestrial television to online and mobile networks. It also promises an unadultered glimpse into how many digital dimes television networks could be earning from live content.  

In addition to appearing on all four major broadcast networks, the telethon will be available on more than 20 U.S. channels and several Canadian networks. Also, multiple American mobile carriers and international networks plan to stream the events. Even MTV China will be airing the Clooney extravaganza.

The event will be a first, since popular content is often siloed into the most profitable venue (namely television). To date, premiere sporting events that garner the most predictably large audiences, have been kept within the confines of television.

NBC head Jeff Zucker has gotten a lot of criticism (including from me) for his comments regarding analog dollars and digital dimes for such events. Zucker is still not willing to stream content online that he thinks will bring in big ad dollars on terrestrial TV:

“What we’ve lost in terms of viewers and ad dollars on the traditional
analog systems is not being made up for on the digital side. Until we
do that, there’s a risk to all our business plans.”

Television networks are right to be hesitant about streaming content when they aren’t sure how to monetize it yet and the model is so clear for TV. But that hesitance also makes it harder to discern where consumers would watch video given unlimited options. This week’s events should provide a little insight there. 

The telethon has been dubbed a “publicity stunt for pop stars” and the rich and famous are coming out in droves to beg, borrow and plead for dollars across the globe. Among the participants are Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, Bono, The Edge, Mary J. Blige and Alicia
Keys. In addition to Clooney hosting in California, Wyclef Jean
will appear from New York City and Anderson Cooper will be reporting on-location from
Haiti.

Meanwhile, performances will be sold on iTunes for $0.99 starting Saturday. Because the goal is to draw attention to the plight in Haiti, celebrities, organizations and networks are working together to get this programming to the largest audience possible.

All proceeds from the telethon will be split equally between the
Clinton Bush Haiti Fund; United Nations World Food Programme (WFP);
Oxfam America; Partners in Health; the Red Cross; UNICEF; and Yele
Haiti Foundation.

Between the celebrity talent, corporate backing and the diverse media outlets, the event is set to raise an impressive amount of funding for disaster efforts. But it will also serve as a proving ground for many digital outlets. When no one is trying to personally profit from a major media event, it allows for an untainted look into consumers media habits.

With television, digital and mobile options for viewing available, it will be interesting to see on Monday what media options consumers turn to when no one’s counting their dimes. 

Image: Getty