LIMITED NETWORK COVERAGE MISSES CONVENTION ACTION

Ratings Continue to Drop for Broadcasters, but Cable Sees Gains

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BOSTON (AdAge.com) -- Two of the meatier speeches from the podium of the Democratic National Convention in Fleet Center -- one by U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama and another by a 12-year-old who said the vice president needed a "time out" for uttering a naughty word -- were not seen live on most broadcast networks because they took place before ABC, NBC and CBS were on the air.

Last hour
Despite the excitement on the convention

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floor, from dancing earlier in the evening to prolonged standing ovations for speakers, not to mention the energy created by Mr. Obama's keynote address stressing national unity, the energy wasn't as noticeable during the convention's last hour. And some blame that on the networks.

Many lament that the presidential conventions have become little more than scripted entertainment, with the nominations themselves a foregone conclusion, and the networks, citing declining ratings, this year have cut back their coverage, leaving the event to public television, C-SPAN, and cable news outlets.

Ratings decline
The ratings bear this out: Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter helped improve the ratings for the DNC's opening day July 26 from four years ago for PBS, CNN and the Fox News Channel, but network ratings were down -- but is that because the networks have limited their coverage?

Figures from Nielsen Media Research show NBC led the ratings Monday night with a 3.3 rating/6 share, down from its 4.8 rating/9 share four years ago. CBS had a 3.2 rating/5 share. (CBS included convention coverage of 48 hours four years ago.) ABC had a 3.1 rating/5 share, vs. 4.5 rating/11 share four years ago.

On cable CNN had a 1.8 rating/3 share, up from four years ago and double the 0.9 rating/2 share for the Fox News Channel, which still did far better than its 0.4/1 of four years ago. MSNBC had a 0.7 rating and a 1 share, up from 0.5/1 four years ago.

PBS reported that based on overnight metered markets, which is a smaller sample, its numbers rose 9% to a 2.4 rating in the overnight metered markets.

Networks criticized
The Alliance for Better Campaigns contends the conventions themselves aren't boring, it's that the networks lack of in-depth coverage sends a message they are boring to delegates and the public alike. The group said the same TV stations that are taking hundreds of millions of dollars in political advertising are shirking their responsibility in not covering the conventions.

"It is not too much to ask that, every four years, the media companies that are granted free licenses to operate on the publicly-owned airwaves actually use those airwaves to help educate the American public about the choices we as a nation face in the upcoming elections," the group said in a press release. "Convention coverage should be an automatic part of broadcasters' public interest obligations."

It warned that the failure to significantly cover the conventions "is moving us down the road to the 'ghetto-ization' of politics, with only a narrow segment of the motivated public getting the information they need to be informed, engaged citizens."

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