How Time used Zoom and TV to expand its ‘Person of The Year’

Futures News 74

It’s a marker, not an award, the Time magazine team are quick to stress. Either way the annual ‘Person of The Year’ splash has drawn lots of chatter, some controversy and occasional outrage (with totalitarian dictators Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin being selected in 1938 and 1939 and 1942, respectively) for attempting to provide a “measuring stick for where the world is and where it’s going”.

The exercise, which now starts off with an all-team meeting of Time staff, began in 1927 under editor and co-founder Briton Hadden. By then the four-year-old New York-based publication had amassed a readership of more than 175,000 and the ‘Person of The Year’ would prove to be an immensely successful PR exercise, cementing Time as one of the US’ most influential magazines and helping it reach a heady circulation of over two million by the mid-20th century.

An online poll was introduced in 1998, with internet-savvy wrestling fans backing Mick Foley (otherwise known as Mankind) for the then ‘Man of the Year’. But Bill Clinton and Kenn Starr would be given the designation by the Time’s editors.

The ‘Person of The Year’ only recently diversified in 2019, with the introduction of a series of sub-brands, including ‘Business Person of The Year’, ‘Entertainer of The Year’ and ‘Athlete of The Year’. President-elect Joe Biden and his running-mate Kamala Harris got this nod this year, while ‘Guardian of The Year’ was shared between Dr Anthony Fauci, frontline health workers and racial-justice organizers.

“This will be the test of the next four years: Americans who haven’t been this divided in more than a century elected two leaders who have bet their success on finding common ground. The odds may be long. But it will be among the most critical chapters in the arduous quest for a more perfect union,” Editor-in-Chief Edward Felsenthal wrote.

2020, however, was the first time Time teamed-up with a broadcaster to make the announcement via a special show on NBC, featuring another wrestler in the shape of John Cena. Zoom was also used to host a series of debates around ‘Person of the Year’, which has effectively become its own brand.

The online and broadcast expansion also seems to have paid off, with the rather crude metric of Google Search revealing that there was record worldwide interest in the designation this year.

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Illustration: Macrovector