ABC didn’t share. Fox News didn’t share. Neither did CNBC, CBS, MSNBC or Fox Business Network.
But when PBS televises Thursday’s Democratic debate in Milwaukee, it will share the event with another network, CNN.
In an unusual arrangement, “PBS NewsHour” will provide its feed of the latest faceoff between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to the cable news network while also distributing it to its 350 “member” stations around the country. The debate will thus be the first of this campaign carried on two networks.
CNN is paying a licensing fee to “NewsHour” and its producing station, WETA of Arlington, for its share of the broadcast. Neither side would disclose financial details.
Although splitting the telecast with CNN risks splitting PBS’s potential audience, the arrangement could be a winner for “NewsHour,” PBS and WETA, said Rick Schneider, president of NewsHour Productions and WETA’s chief operating officer.
“I think the PBS audience will watch on their PBS station, and CNN will expose our debate to [CNN’s] audience,” he said. He added, “It will raise awareness of ‘PBS NewsHour’ and our anchors. . . . I’m not worried that it will cannibalize our audience.”
CNN’s fees will also enable WETA to come “close to break-even” on producing the debate, he said.
CNN approached “NewsHour” about a simulcast after “NewsHour” announced it was a debate sponsor last month — and after earlier debates proved to be among the highest-rated events in cable news history.
The cable network has agreed to promote the event as the “PBS NewsHour Democratic Debate.” It will have no editorial input, but it will have its own broadcast set within the debate hall as part of its agreement with PBS.
One difference: The debate format calls for only one intermission, which means CNN will have to cram all its commercials into a single break.
CNN, which declined to comment, has sponsored three debates since September, with the conservative Salem radio network as its partner in two GOP events. In addition to Thursday’s debate, it will carry three more in late February and early March. It will partner with Salem again for two future Republican events and with the Telemundo network for one of the GOP debates, on Feb. 25.
PBS applied to sponsor a Republican debate but wasn’t selected by the Republican National Committee, a WETA spokesperson said.