Sky Box by Jay Rosen
Thursday, September 02, 2004
Madison Square Garden, Aug. 2. First, there's the news that Fox beat all networks--not just its cable competitors--in the ratings race at the Republican convention.
Then there's this story, from the newspaper The Hill:
The love-in between Republican delegates and Fox News Channel continued on Tuesday night, as a group of delegates seated directly facing CNN’s broadcast booth began taunting the CNN cast and crew.Then there's the item I reported earlier this week: the deal CNN negotiated with the Democratic Party for a special broadcast platform on the arena floor.
Then there's the decision by the major broadcast networks to devote only three hours over four nights to both conventions, due to declining news value and interest. David Westin, president of ABC News, wrote about it:
If we broadcast extended convention coverage when most Americans would rather be watching something else, our audiences will flock to the alternative programming. If the conventions themselves were as interesting as they were in 1948 or 1956 -- or even 1968 -- then we wouldn't have this problem. But as we all know too well, they aren't. As much as we might like to coerce people into watching what we think to be good for them, we simply don't have that power.Then there's the long transformation of the conventions into message festivals that are also entertainment events.
All of which leads me to think that by 2008 we may see something different emerge: The Republican and Democratic parties may negotiate deals with a single network to carry exclusive live coverage of the event-- as with the Academy Awards, or the Olympics.
Obviously it makes the most sense for the Republicans to sell their convention to Fox exclusively, and for the Democrats to go with CNN, which led the ratings among cable channels for the Democratic convention in Boston.
Why not? Ratings would be far higher for a single network. Promotion would be simpler. Cooperation between the party and the network carrier would suddenly be "okay," since both would want to put on the best event possible. The suits at ABC, NBC and CBS would be relieved not to have to answer questions about the meager number of hours they plan to broadcast. The party bosses would like dealing with a single partner, I think.
The argument against it? "This is a news event and all broadcasters should have the right to cover it." But the answer to that is simple: anyone can cover the convention. Only one network has the right to televise it. This is exactly the arrangement at the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards-- thousands of journalists cover the event, but only one company has the right to broadcast it to Americans.
In Boston, the word among insiders was: this is the last year of the four-night convention. Next time, 2008, we will be down to three nights-- and the standard will be one hour of live coverage a night from the broadcast networks. Maybe that will happen.
But I think there are more radical changes afoot. The very premise of a "news event" is so strained it may collapse. By 2008, the conventions could be very different creatures because at bottom almost no one believes in the ritual as it stands.
"Turn to Fox News for Exclusive Coverage of the Republican National Convention." Now doesn't that make more sense?
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