In Depth

PhRMA‘S ‘Miracles’ Show Goes Online for Global Audience

Embracing the digital world has given “Sharing Miracles”—a program that features a high-profile person dealing with a chronic or life-threatening illness and highlights treatments and medications—an international reach.

The 30-minute series, produced by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which represents the country’s leading pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies in Washington, D.C., has previously been limited to paid-programming placement.

The show airs on Sunday mornings on more than 280 TV stations (58 network-affiliated and 227 community) reaching 50 million households, according to PhRMA Senior VP of Communications Ken Johnson, who is the show’s executive producer.

“We had the Web site last year and we had the capability to show a five-minute teaser,” he said. “But now we have a super-powerful server that allows us to push out the show and we’re streaming it on a regular basis.”

Without buffering stops and starts, the show plays clearly even for people with slow modems, Mr. Johnson said. And that’s had an impact. “It’s opened up our viewership to people all over the country and around the world,” he said.

Mr. Johnson also has used social networking tools to get the word out. “Sharing Miracles” posts videos on YouTube that link back to the site, and is on Facebook.

Mr. Johnson reported that many visitors to the Web site share their stories, and patient groups from around the country have created reciprocal Web links. “In many cases, we provide DVD copies to the groups, who give them to their members,” he said.

The growth of the show, which is produced in PhRMA’s $1.5 million digital broadcast facility, is no comfort to its critics in the health care journalism field who decry its perspective.

“Industry-funded work emphasizes the positives,” said independent journalist and author Andrew Holtz, a board member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and publisher of holtz report.com. “They only pick topics where there’s a product, and they won’t talk about serious medical problems where there isn’t a product to sell. There’s an overwhelming focus on medicine rather than health, because it’s not in their financial interest.”

Mr. Johnson has heard that criticism—and many others—but he shrugs it off. “This show is dedicated to disease awareness,” he said. “We realize that we’re still paid programming, but we’ve never promoted a single product and we never will. The quality of the shows and patient stories sell themselves.”

He also pointed to the ease of attracting high-profile guests to the show. In 2009, country singer Naomi Judd, actress Meredith Baxter, NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins and UConn Huskies basketball coach Jim Calhoun are scheduled for episodes. Muhammad Ali and Ice-T also have signed on.

Mr. Johnson mentioned another recent major development: the partnership with Major League Baseball. The April 5 episode featured Boston Red Sox star pitcher Jon Lester, who was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and took time off from baseball to battle it.

“He was cured, came back and won the deciding game of the 2007 World Series,” Mr. Johnson said. MLB provided the production footage from the World Series and Lester’s no-hitter game. “We reciprocate by highlighting efforts by Major League Baseball to raise awareness of cancer,” said Mr. Johnson.

Despite its growth, “Sharing Miracles” has been touched by the tough economy. In several large markets—Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Hartford, Conn., and Philadelphia among them—the show has moved to lower-rated MyNetworkTV stations.

“It’s a mixed blessing,” Mr. Johnson admitted. “You lose the lead-in, lead-out programs you get with the big networks, but we secured what I consider to be better timeslots.”