President Barack Obama is addressing a joint session of Congress next Wednesday in primetime, the second of his presidency, plus four other prime time events. Once again, network news departments are going to be under pressure to cover the event live. The topic will once again be health care.
Obama’s visit to Congress is by invitation from Democratic leaders Harry Reid (D-NV) in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in the House of Representatives.
The last time Obama addressed Congress in prime time was 2/24/09 in a session which lasted eight minutes short of an hour. But primetime is primetime to television networks, regardless of the presidential format being used to preempt regular programming. Each of these events is said to cost the nets an estimated $10M in ad revenue.
The only network to bail on one of the events thus far is Fox, which stuck with “So You Think You Can Dance” instead of breaking for Obama’s July health care press conference. Fox does have the luxury of carrying such events on Fox News Channel, so it cannot be accused of completely ignoring the event. Similarly, NBC has MSNBC and CNBC. Equivalent cable options do not exist for CBS or ABC.
Radio stations make most of their money while people are driving to and from work, and are not suffering nearly the same amount of financial damage as are television stations.
Although the time of the event isn’t yet known, it is likely to start at either 8:00 PM or 9:00 PM. If the earlier, NBC and Fox will be unhappy, with reality talent contests steamrolling towards their finales. And Fox is on the hook again at 9:00 PM, with its much-ballyhooed kick-off of Glee.
Here’s what the networks have at risk.
CBS: The New Adventures of Old Christine (rerun)
NBC: America’s Got Talent (2 hours – show is nearing finals)
Fox: So You Think You Can Dance
CBS: Gary Unmarried (rerun)
ABC: Crash Course
CBS: Criminal Minds (rerun)
Fox: Glee (much-hyped debut)
ABC: Primetime Crime
CBS: CSI: NY (rereun)
NBC: Law & Order: SVU (rerun)
RBR/TVBR observation: The health care issue has not calmed down since Obama’s last media blitz – in fact, the temperature has been rising. So the newsworthiness of the event cannot be questioned. Television broadcasters will look venal indeed if they decide to stick with regularly scheduled programming and the ad dollars that go with it. The problem is not so stark for radio, which will be well clear of its two drive time prime times.