The Red Carpet at awards shows is dying a slow, painful death, and there's a business lesson or two to be learned from it.

Years ago, more viewers tuned into the red carpet events than for the awards shows themselves. Many networks, including award network hosts and specifically E!, benefited from this desire to watch Hollywood’s elite parade down a red carpet. Of E!s top telecasts of all time, most are red-carpet or awards recap shows. And yet, suddenly, despite massive popularity, these shows have become controversial and essentially shunned from the water coolers across America. Many things have contributed to this, starting with the untimely death of Joan Rivers, female celebrities lobbying to #AskHerMore on the red carpet, and the recent unfortunate comments made by Giuliana Rancic about an African-American celebrity. The red carpet as we know it is falling apart. 

This got me thinking--how could something so popular with the masses fail so miserably and so quickly, after being totally top of mind? And what can we, as business owners, learn from this drastic drop in ratings, revenue, and regard? Here are 3 lessons I see:

1. Pay attention to your product.  

In 2012, E! was at the top of its game. In an effort to grow revenue even further and make more off its burgeoning Red Carpet franchise, they introduced the "Mani Cam." Female celebrities would shove their hands onto a platform which would show off their manicures, likely to sell in additional nail sponsors. Celebrities were disgusted. From Elizabeth Moss flipping the bird on live television, to Cate Blanchett asking if they require men to stand before a camera and be panned up and down with the lens, there was a lot of pushback. The celebrities are the product of this business--without them, there's no coverage. They tolerate the snarky post-awards show reviews. They even tolerate "who are you wearing" (although they beg to be asked more about what they're working on). 

While most products can't talk--paying attention to the performance of your product, and most importantly, customer feedback about that product, is key.

2. Never make your business dependent on one person. 

In 1994, Joan Rivers was coming out of a deep depression. Her daughter Melissa knew someone at E! and suggested she take this low level job reviewing celebrities on the Red Carpet, before it was anything at all. She built that program with her bare hands, and she said things that NO ONE else could get away with it. When Joan died, there was simply no replacing her. Attempts at jokes were no longer funny, and her death paved the way for celebrities to revolt even further against the dreaded ogling of their clothing. When a business is based on one single leader or "personal brand," there's always the risk of collapse the moment that person is unavailable. 

Build a business that can survive without you.

3. When the tide is turning, it's time to be bold. 

Giuliana Rancic had a joke written for her that was so offensive to young celebrity Zendaya, it caused a total firestorm. Zendaya responded with class and dignity, and, despite Giuliana's sincere apology, both Kathy Griffin and Kelly Osbourne, two of the greatest assets of Fashion Police, have resigned from the show. After Rancic's classless joke, E! should have recognized that the old Joan format simply would not work anymore. It was the time for them to make a bold change. Similarly, in business, what worked for you in 2011 will not work for you in 2015. Sometimes what even worked for you in June may not work in December. As a leader, you must be bold and unafraid to change format, despite popularity. Popularity can change in an instant, and resting on favorable opinions from fans who can be fickle is not a winning strategy. E! could have and should have anticipated a need for a drastic shift the second Joan Rivers passed away. 

Always be thinking at least 18-24 months out, and don't rest solely on fan love--it's important, but it's always evolving.

What do you think contributed to the Red Carpet's demise, and do you think it can be saved? What lessons do you see for your own business? 

Published on: Mar 17, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.