Should I Pay to Be on TV?

The person you are seeing interviewed on TV might have paid for that spot.

It’s true.

There seems to be a new trend going on among local TV shows as well as cable news shows to sell interview spots to authors, speakers and business people for fees ranging from $900 to $4,500.

While this isn’t illegal, the practice is disturbing.

As a viewer, I expect the news directors and producers and reporters to carefully decide who they want to interview for their spot segments. These people should be interesting, newsworthy, and controversial or pass the general litmus test of “news.”

It could be hard news like a politician defending her views. It could be the head of a charity group talking about some feel-good event he is promoting, or anything in between.

They all have one thing in common: a news person felt they passed the test.

But there appears to be a pay-for-play element creeping into the news biz. Producers are actually asking potential guests to pony up a few hundred or thousand dollars to appear on their shows.

The spots are labeled as news, not advertising.

One of my clients says the producer told her this was part of a new trend called “branded entertainment.” There’s even a Wikipedia entry about this!

The producer said that infomercials aren’t working any longer, so this form of 5-minute interview tied to a news show is the new, bright shiny object that people are chasing after.

Another client said that he can get a contract to appear on a local TV show for 50 segments for $900 a pop.

Apparently, I’m the last person to know about this (or maybe you are). But the cat is out of the bag. TV stations want to make money and they are looking to guests to foot the bill.

What should you do?

First, remember that there still are legitimate TV shows that will be horrified to hear about this trend. I don’t think Oprah or Regis or Ellen or Piers will allow pay-for-play.

Second, I’m sure there are late-night talk shows that have always operated on a quid-pro-quo basis that allowed celebrities to come on to a show to promote their movies or their books. That’s where the commercial line begins to blur. But it’s been going on for a zillion years and isn’t about to stop.

That puts us back on point. What should you do if a producer from a real TV shows asks for money?

First, determine if this is a real show or not. There are lots of companies that claim to be TV shows that will film you for a fee and say they will air the episode. But they are frauds. Either they don’t air the show, or the show is viewed by a very small audience. It’s a scam.

Second, if the show is legit (as the above two cases with my clients show), then determine if you can win. Ask yourself: “Will the money I invest make me as much or more money?”

For example, if I pay $900 to appear on this show, will I sell $900 of books, consulting, coaching, speaking or products?

If the answer is “Yes,” then go for it. That’s what advertising is supposed to do.

But beware:
1. Don’t commit yourself to a long-term contract you can’t get out of. You might have good success in the beginning. But if the sales start to diminish, you could lose your shirt.
2. Make sure the show actually does reach your target audience. It is nice to be asked to be on a TV show in Sweden, but will that reach the people who can buy my your services?
3. Make sure the show airs at the prime time to reach your audience. Does your audience watch TV as they eat breakfast, or at 2 in the morning when they can’t sleep?
4. Make sure you get copies of the video to use in any way you want. You will want to get the most value you can out of this video. In addition, it will be much higher quality than anything you can do with your Mac and a green screen.

Once the interview airs, make sure you make the most of segments. For example:
1. Link to the videos from your website.
2. Publicize the fact you were on TV, especially if you signed a long-term contract and you are now the expert correspondent for the show on your specific topic.

Remember, not everyone sees every minute of every episode of every TV show (or newspaper for that matter). You must promote your appearances to the people who don’t watch TV or read newspapers or who happened to be working at the time the show aired.

The old newspaper editor in me cringes at the thought of paying to be on TV and the station not labeling this as a pay-for-play event. But they didn’t ask me for my opinion. I’m just showing you how to maximize your opportunities in this new age of media when all the rules seem to be changing.

Dan Janal helps small businesses get publicity so they can sell more products. My clients get terrific results from my coaching, consulting, done-for-you services and do-it-yourself tools. For info, go to or call me at 952-380-1554.


  1. says

    WOW, thanks for bringing this to light. I wasn’t aware this practice occur. Wouldn’t the FTC have an issue with the paid spot not being clearly indicated? Are we talking small cable tv outlets, public access type channels or network affiliated news shows (ie: nbc, cbs, fox affiliates)?