Broadcast Networks Lament Obama's Preemptive Strike

President Obama will take his message to the people, who will miss out on original broadcast TV content -- and ads.
President Obama will take his message to the people, who will miss out on original broadcast TV content -- and ads. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)
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By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, February 6, 2009

President Obama's desire to talk -- and talk, and talk -- to the American public could cost broadcast networks millions, and millions, and millions of prime-time TV dollars.

Broadcasters are bracing themselves for the likelihood of three prime-time interruptions in three weeks, totaling at least three hours of prime time -- and ad breaks -- yanked.

"His economic stimulus package apparently does not extend to the TV networks," one network exec noted.

Obama's reps have alerted broadcasters that the president will hold a news conference Monday, according to network execs. It's expected to eat up the first hour of prime time; that alone could cost broadcasters more than $9 million in lost ad revenue.

Obama's also mulling a shorter prime-time appearance Feb. 16 tied to the economic stimulus package. And White House officials have said that on Feb. 24, Obama will address a joint session of Congress to give the equivalent of a two-hour State of the Union speech. Traditionally, the address to the joint houses of Congress given by the newly elected president is not called the SOTU; that'll be next year's speech.

That one, the broadcast networks were expecting; they budget for a State of the Union/Whatev address to preempt two hours of prime time every year around this time.

The networks were awaiting more information about the two Monday prime-time appearances at press time. "They're playing very close to the vest," one network exec told the TV Column.

Monday preemptions are particularly problematic for broadcasters, what with it becoming one of the most competitive nights this season. This Monday at 8, for instance, to accommodate Obamavision, Fox would have to pull an original episode of its extremely popular "House." Price tag: about $3 million.

CBS would have to yank two of its successful sitcoms, "Big Bang Theory" and "How I Met Your Mother," though the network would probably swap its expected-to-be-low-rated "Worst Week" at 9:30 p.m. for the "Big Bang" episode. Final price tag: about $2 mil.

ABC would probably start "The Bachelor" at 9 instead of 8, and scrub its 10 p.m. reality series "True Beauty." Price tag: $1.5 million-ish.

And NBC might chose to preempt "Chuck." Price tag: $1.5 million to $2 million.

Of course, Obama has picked one of the biggest viewership nights of the week for his appearances.

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