The murder trial of a Phoenix-area woman has a devoted audience, enthralled by evidence revealing intimate and scandalous details of the defendant’s life. Jodi Arias is charged with killing her boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in 2008. She’s being both prosecuted and defended by taxpayer-funded attorneys. As of last week, her defense has cost nearly $1.7 million. Taxpayers who want to see their money at work have been able to watch the case gavel-to-gavel, along with plenty of analysis.
The HLN network covers the trial constantly. In a press release, HLN said the Arias trial fueled big gains in its TV ratings. And, it even used the trial to launch a new show: HLN After Dark.
But it’s hardly just national outlets seeing a bump.
“We’ve never seen anything like what we’re getting from the Arias traffic. It’s night and day,” said Chris Kline, director of new media at KNXV, Phoenix’s ABC affiliate. It covers the story regularly on TV, and carries the whole case live online.
“We’ve been seeing millions upon millions of livestream hits on a weekly, monthly, hourly basis. It’s nonstop,” Kline said. “We put that up, and people watch.”
Kline said streaming the case was an easy call: compelling characters, dramatic testimony, and a lot of Arizona tax dollars on the line.
“Covering this trial and making sure that everything goes as it should is critical for our audience,” Kline said.
Nobody’s keen to say exactly how much the Arias coverage has boosted ad revenue. But Syracuse University advertising professor Brian Sheehan said it’s a pretty basic principle.
“If you deliver more eyeballs, the value of that time goes up. That’s one of the reason a lot of these cable channels, for example — you know, in many cases if they can latch onto a case like this, people get hooked, they get addicted to it,” Sheehan said. “It’s kind of like this is the Phoenix version of the O.J. Simpson case.”
And Sheehan said there’s a big incentive to keep the audience addicted.
“Because [for] many of these outlets, once Jodi Arias goes away — or gets put away — that audience might disappear.”
The case is a hot commodity for less-traditional players, too; like a website selling artwork that Arias apparently drew behind bars. A portrait of Frank Sinatra reportedly sold for more than $1,000. And recently, a regular courtroom spectator sold her seat for $200 — but after a swift reprimand, was forced to give the money back.
For Chris Kline at the local ABC station, the trial shows him that there are huge revenue opportunities in airing future high-profile cases.
“If our audience is hungry for this and we can offer them that overage, that’s going to help our overall business as we push forward in a really tough economy,” Kline says.
Closing arguments in the Arias trial continue into Friday.