Sunday, July 22, 2018
TV and Media

In prime-time RNC coverage, networks give nod to new media

Here at ground zero of the Republican National Convention, news that the big broadcast TV networks will air only three hours of coverage in prime time may surprise those who know an estimated 15,000 journalists are expected to hit Tampa next week.

But there is at least one man who was nonplussed by the announcements from ABC, CBS and NBC: former CBS News anchor Dan Rather.

"It is a new media environment. Should anyone be (upset) about it? Probably not," said Rather, who was famously shown getting punched while trying to interview a delegate being ejected from the 1968 Democratic convention.

"The parties have chosen to make (the conventions) into an infomercial. ... Four nights of spin where nothing is decided," he added. "So no one can blame the networks for saying it's expensive to staff and cutting back makes sense."

CBS and NBC announced coverage plans on Monday; ABC revealed its schedule last week. All plan an hour of RNC coverage in prime time at 10 p.m. each night from Aug. 28 to Aug. 30.

NBC and CBS will air their Sunday shows, Meet the Press and Face the Nation, from Tampa. Editions of every network's morning shows and evening newscasts also will air from Tampa during the week, broadcasting from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

And big stars are coming: Matt Lauer, Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw for NBC; Scott Pelley, Bob Schieffer and Charlie Rose on CBS, and Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopoulos and Terry Moran at ABC.

But at a time when the three big cable news channels plan loads of coverage for political junkies —while PBS and C-SPAN offer gavel-to-gavel, commercial-free telecasts, along with online outlets such as BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Yahoo and many more — the sense of loss due to cutbacks on network TV isn't as acute.

Indeed, current coverage patterns mirror those of 2004, when the networks also offered an hour each night in prime time over three nights. In 2008, plans to present four hours over four nights at the RNC were disrupted by the impact of Hurricane Gustav on the first night.

Some experts say the narrow broadcast windows may even give more influence to political parties, which can pack the 10 p.m. hour with content the networks are pushed to air with little analysis.

Rather, who now hosts Dan Rather Reports on HD Net, said he doesn't plan to present any coverage from Tampa, though he will visit the RNC.

"A lot of best campaign sources will be in Tampa and its always good to keep in touch," he said. "But part of our criteria for broadcast is 'Can we bring added value?' My inclination is, probably not."

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