ABC, like other broadcast networks, will cover the forthcoming GOP convention precisely as it covered the Democratic event–by largely ignoring it. After all, nothing must get in the way of the multibillion-dollar revenues from prime-time commercials.
CBS, NBC and ABC will air a measly three hours of the GOP convention, the same short shrift they gave the Democrats. (Fox Broadcasting doesn’t show any convention coverage at all!) Although the four big broadcast networks’ fortunes are predicated on free use of the public airwaves, no major politician will publicly chastise them for their greed and disregard of the public interest. In our hypercommercial media culture, even presidential candidates know that civic discourse doesn’t bring premium prime-time ad rates.
So for the majority of viewers, who still watch broadcast TV, their glimpse of the convention will be for a slim, single hour at 10 pm Eastern time on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, August 31 to September 2.
Despite this lack of broadcast time, ABC is even boasting of its “comprehensive” coverage. Through its new, purportedly ground-breaking ABC News Now digital service, the network promises “a more comprehensive look at what this election and these conventions mean.” Using a combination of broadband streaming (via AOL and others), Sprint “Vision” phones and a handful of digital TV channels, ABC’s “FAQ” sheet crows that “no other network is offering that kind of comprehensive coverage across multiple platforms.”
Yet very few people are likely to watch Jennings and company digitally. Despite all the hype about tens of millions of potential viewers, only about 500,000 may have access to News Now, admits ABC. That’s out of 108 million US TV households and the 68 million US adults who have high-speed Internet service. As for its digital TV channel, one must either have an over-the-air digital tuner (which very few have at present) or pay extra for premium cable service. If you live in Kansas, Maine, Missouri, New Mexico or several other states, the channel is simply not available at all. And if you live in other states where it is available, you still need to know about it, which most people don’t.
ABC News president David Westin didn’t mention any of this in a recent Washington Post op-ed criticizing anyone concerned about the networks’ failure to broadcast the conventions as hopelessly “out of date.” Cable and the Internet have now created a “media democracy,” and “time and technology are passing the critics by.” What the big networks do is largely irrelevant today, he claimed. (We have to wonder if his colleagues tell the same story to ABC’s advertisers.)