question of the day: Could the American broadcast networks be bigger crybabies?

They’re at it again: ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC are complaining because President Obama has asked for some primetime access to discuss with the American public his first 100 days in office. As the New York Post explains:

[P]rogrammers are starting to act peeved at Obama’s primetime interruptions — one a month since January — because every speech and press conference results in a loss of ad revenue and scheduling problems.

In his first 100 days in office, former President George W. Bush preempted primetime only once, for his State of the Union Address.

Obama is asking for the 8 p.m. slot on Wednesday to discuss his first 100 days in office. This is inconvenient for the networks because it falls during the May sweeps period.

They bitched back in February, too, before Obama’s primetime press conference. At that time, Chad Rubel at Buzzflash summed up the networks crybabism succinctly:

The major reason networks shouldn’t be complaining is that they don’t own the airwaves with which they broadcast their shows: we do. Without us, the taxpayers and citizens of this country, giving them the airwaves, they wouldn’t be able to make boatloads of money.

The FCC says so itself:

In exchange for obtaining a valuable license to operate a broadcast station using the public airwaves, each radio and television licensee is required by law to operate its station in the “public interest, convenience and necessity.” This means that it must air programming that is responsive to the needs and problems of its local community of license.

Station licensees, as the trustees of the public’s airwaves, must use the broadcast medium to serve the public interest.

(Emphasis mine.)

Now, of course, the networks are not required to air an Obama chat — certainly, there are plenty of supposed requirements of the FCC that are blatantly ignored with no penalty (like the one about educational programming). But with that February press conference garnering almost 40 million viewers spread pretty evenly across the four networks, which is better than almost any of the networks’ own programming, should they really be complaining when at least some of those viewers will have stuck around for what was airing next? Perhaps they could make themselves even more irrelevant than they’ve already become by ignoring a public speech by an immensely popular President…

But even if they have to give up a measly hour or two every month to the President of the United States aren’t they still getting an awesome deal from the American people?

Could the American broadcast networks be bigger crybabies?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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Mon, Apr 27, 2009 11:36am

No offense, but I could care less what Obama has to say. When it comes to politicians, actions speaker louder than words. I haven’t watched any of Obama’s speeches. I don’t really watch any speeches by politicos. As the old joke goes, “How can you tell when a politician is lying? His lips are moving.” But that’s just me.

Mon, Apr 27, 2009 11:45am

Pollas, I’m sure you mean you couldn’t care less, but at any rate, I am actually surprised at the fact that an administration that is so comfortable with technology (YouTube, twitter, etc.) insists on relying on network television to get out its message. Why not stream these on the web? I’m not defending the whining, but it seems unnecessary to use prime time network air time for this purpose any more.

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Mon, Apr 27, 2009 12:57pm

I’m kind of peeved at Obama’s primetime interruptions, not that I watch that much primetime anymore anyway.

State of the Union address, yes. National address specific to a rapidly evolving crisis, yes. Routine update on his first days in office – why?

We have teh intarwebs now. We still have newspapers, even. People who want to know what he has to say have plenty of access to it. Mercifully, there’s also access to summaries of the high points.

Mon, Apr 27, 2009 3:00pm

Ah, yes, because every American citizen has easy and reliable access to high-speed internet and can download videos at will. Sorry, guys, but there are a few cave-dwellers out there who have to rely on basic cable or even *GASP* network television to see news. I’m certain this speech will be on youtube, but everyone has a right to see it. As for why now: The 100 days is largely a media creation that’s been flogged to death, so he has to acknowledge it. Whether a prime time speech is appropriate, I don’t know, but it’s silly how the networks keep pitching a fit about it. It’s not like they have to return the ad revenue- they just give the advertisers some coupons for their ads to be aired later. Wow, big deal.

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Mon, Apr 27, 2009 3:32pm

Nevertheless, it peeves me.

If he has nothing of importance to say, why barge into prime-time with it? What are the cave-dwellers going to miss out on? A chance to be awed by his charisma?

Mon, Apr 27, 2009 4:30pm

Hey, cavemen, when I was in college I had to put up with Star Trek: Next Gen being interrupted by football games that went into overtime. It annoyed the hell out of me that I’d miss the first twenty damn minutes of my, at the time, favorite TV show just so idiots could watch thugs make millions playing a game. So if Obama wants to interrupt programming to say something about the state of the union and maybe the world and even his kid’s chicken pox, the more power to him.

Mon, Apr 27, 2009 4:33pm

Actually, when I look at my little rant, I probably shouldn’t have used the word “caveman.” I was thinking of people who like football more than SF, which includes TV network executives, but given the context of previous posts might have been seen to refer to people who don’t keep up technologically, which would include me. Sorry all.

Mon, Apr 27, 2009 7:20pm

Ah, right, Gail. I always have trouble with those common sayings. You hear them so much you kind of rearrange them in your head.

Bill Mason
Mon, Apr 27, 2009 7:32pm

Meanwhile, you can nominate Fox for the crybaby title or courage, depending on whether you want your TV interrupted. They’ve announced they’re aren’t going to carry the press conference.

Tonio Kruger
Mon, Apr 27, 2009 8:55pm

Ah, yes, because every American citizen has easy and reliable access to high-speed internet and can download videos at will. Sorry, guys, but there are a few cave-dwellers out there who have to rely on basic cable or even *GASP* network television to see news.

And part of those people include people who actually voted for Obama.

A politician wanting to reach as many of his constituents as possible as opposed to just targeting ones lucky enough to have the most fashionable technology….What a concept!

Tue, Apr 28, 2009 11:30am

i don’t think Fox is being courageous or a crybaby… i think not carrying the speech is part of their campaign to discredit and disparage President Obama at every turn.

Tue, Apr 28, 2009 12:01pm

I just hope it doesn’t get in the way of Lost.

Tue, Apr 28, 2009 12:32pm

I can’t speak for the networks, themselves, because I don’t work on that level, but these consistent interruptions do have a negative effect on the local level; the network affiliate stations.
Prime-time ads are the largest source of revenue a local station has, and when a station loses prime dollars on a consistent basis, they don’t make budget. When they don’t make budget, they are forced to cut expenses. When they cut expenses, people lose their jobs.
In another time, it might not be so bad, but when the economy is in hardship and stations are already struggling month-to-month to make budget, things like this make it worse.
If it pertains to crucial, you-need-to-know-right-now information, there is, of course, no argument; for plain ol’ status reports… No. These can be handled with a press-conference and reported to the public via the regularly-scheduled daily newscasts.

Tue, Apr 28, 2009 10:33pm

I just had this image of Obama giving an address with commercial breaks. “We have an unbalanced budget. Want to know what I’m going to do about it? Stay tuned to find out after these messages.”

I can’t say I’m surprised that FOX isn’t showing the speech, but they at least have the excuse that they say they will show it on the FOX “News” station, which I grudgingly concede makes sense.

Tue, Apr 28, 2009 10:43pm

If he has nothing of importance to say, why barge into prime-time with it?

Who says he has nothing important to say? I mean, I don’t know what he’s going to say, but does anyone really imagine the president is going to go on national primetime television and just go, “I got nothin'”?

No offense, but I could care less what Obama has to say.

That has nothing to do with the question, Pollas. Please stay on topic.

I can’t speak for the networks, themselves, because I don’t work on that level, but these consistent interruptions do have a negative effect on the local level; the network affiliate stations.

But those local stations wouldn’t have a business at all if they weren’t granted free access to the public airwaves!

Look: We Americans, as a nation, have said to these stations: “Go and use this public resource to make a profit almost entirely as you see fit. Just give a little back once in a while.” It’s as if we gave all the water rights in the U.S. to a few corporations to do with as they wished, and they refused us a drink of water when we needed it. It doesn’t matter whether giving away a bit of that water once in a while would cut into the profits of those corporations: It’s a requirement of their charter, and if they cannot structure a business around that requirement, they shouldn’t be in business in the first place.

We might as well say that because taxing corporate profit cuts into profit, we shouldn’t tax it. Oh, wait: we pretty much already do that.

So, is that it? We’ve already given away the store, and it’s too late to take it back?

Whatever other methods of communication the president may have… Whether or not some people care to hear what he has to say… These are not at issue. What I want to hear — if anyone can offer it — is a cogent argument against the networks giving the president airtime when he asks for it.

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Wed, Apr 29, 2009 8:52am

—-‘does anyone really imagine the president is going to go on national primetime television and just go, “I got nothin'”?’

Yes, I do. This time, at least. Nothing that requires immediate broadcast in prime time.

Wed, Apr 29, 2009 10:44am

I’m a huge Obama supporter, voted for him, donated, etc.

That said, unless he has something REALLY important to say (we are going to war with Iran, we are bankrupt, we balanced the budget, martial law, so on so forth.) then he can save it for the State of the Union. The one and only thing that I don’t love about Obama is how over-exposed he is. It’s not his fault…except when it IS, like in this case.

Now, if he says something earth-shattering I’m willing to admit my wrongness, but if this is just a ‘hey, this is what is going on’ type speech, then I’d rather see Lost or the series finale of Fringe.

Wed, Apr 29, 2009 11:22am

@neil : Oh shit, LOST is on tonight, isn’t it?


100 days in office or the 100th episode of LOST.

Decisions, decisions…

Wed, Apr 29, 2009 11:29am

Giving airtime to the President is not a requirement of the public charter of broadcast stations. They are only required to give airtime to candidates for political office. Unless we want to admit that first term Presidents are simply campaigning for their second term, I don’t think Obama qualifies yet.

Wed, Apr 29, 2009 5:12pm

gawds… never mind the networks being crybabies! the american viewing public is a bunch of crybabies too. no wonder we’re so under/un-informed. no one wants to miss a few minutes of a program that’s already crashed like the oceanic flight it features?

cynical, cranky and childish. that’s us.

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Wed, Apr 29, 2009 5:32pm

Well, I suppose you could classify any fandom or obsession with any TV show or movie as “childish”. Kinda funny for a regular participant at a site devoted to movies and television to make such pronouncements, though.

You have a favorite TV show? One you wouldn’t want to miss? How childish of you! You could be rescuing kittens and feeding orphans instead of watching TV!

Lots of people would rather watch their regular programming than watch Obama make a speech of no particular importance. Just like you’d rather watch [insert your favorite program] than devote that time to your favorite cause.

Thu, Apr 30, 2009 3:44pm

yes, i have a favorite show — and i’ve never made a secret of it on this site at all. and i love movies, yes. however, i don’t think that postponing or delaying an episode of that show for the important work of open government is a great tragedy.

however, i noticed that all that whining and crying over missing “Lost” or whatever favorite flavor of lollipop people were upset over, was in vain anyway, since the entire speech, interview *and* question session was over by 9:00 pm (ET) and “Lost” — as well as almost every other prime time — show went on as usual.

as someone who has had many a favorite show or anticipated special or movie delayed or postponed by what seem to be endless sports programs — and been damned pissed about it too, with lots of whining and complaining — i still don’t equate that with an hour given over to the President of the United States. sorry but the airwaves are in public trust — and i’m part of the public too. and i’m trying to be an *informed* part.

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Thu, Apr 30, 2009 4:55pm

–“…important work of open government…”

Sheer hyperbole. Nothing important happened during that speech.

I didn’t see the speech, and I’m just as *informed* as you are. I missed the opportunity to be starstruck by Obama, true, but I missed nothing of substance. AND I caught the latest episode of “Lost”.