Friday, October 31, 2008


Papa was never a rolling stone, but he was a broadcaster, a station manager and owner. Perhaps, John McCain may have misunderstood the fundamentals of the economy, but Papadablogger knows what commercial broadcasting is all about.

If you watch “Election Coverage” on TV… network television or cable, right-leaning FOX NEWS or left-leaning MSNBC, traditional over-the-air network news or local market news, even non-traditional television “news” like Jon Stewart or SNL… if you watch any of this, you should know what it is you’re part of. Its entertainment and you are the audience.

There is no such thing as “Broadcast News.” Therefore, there is no such thing as legitimate election coverage or credible political reporting anywhere on television. There’s good entertainment and not so good, but there is no traditional journalism or honest, straightforward analysis to be found there.

Broadcasting is an arm of the Advertising Business. This is not a cynical assessment. Look at the financial facts and decide for yourself exactly what’s going on.

This year, about $82 billion will be spent on broadcast advertising. These days, what with Wall Street bailouts, enormous monthly loans to the US federal government from our Chinese trading partners and even larger amounts of American dollars flowing steadily to the coffers of OPEC as quickly as those electronic gasoline pumps can make it happen, $82 billion might not seem like so much money. Think of it in simpler terms. Each billion dollars is a thousand million dollars – that’s a million dollars, a thousand times over.

And thus, 82 billions of dollars is 82,000 x $1,000,000. That’s a lot of money. If you like, you can throw in an extra $11.5 billion for Internet advertising.

So, you’re getting pretty close to $100 billion dollars and you haven’t yet used an ounce of ink or a single sheet of paper. And, also, we haven’t touched a penny of the $3 billion that will be spent by all candidates for public office combined in this election season. How do broadcasters view that $3 billion? Easy money. Guaranteed extra income. Its like candy on Halloween, icing on the birthday cake, another Christmas added to the calendar every four years.

Every broadcaster knows there are 168 hours in a week. That equals 10,080 minutes weekly or 1,440 minutes every day. The normal commercial inventory ranges between 288 and 384 minutes per day, or 2,016 to 2,688 minutes each week. Break these down into 60 seconds, 30 seconds, 20 seconds and 10 seconds and you have your “product” which has to be sold by your Sales Department. In order to make that “product” attractive to buyers, at the highest possible prices, the Programming Department must put programs on the air that will bring in the maximum number of viewers.

Do these commercial needs square with credible, reliable, truthful reporting and thoughtful analysis? Oh, sure. If Papa may quote the VP nominee of the Democratic Party, as he addressed an inquiring TV anchor-woman – “Are you joking? Is that a serious question?”

Ask yourself - If an accurate reporter could tell you that a contest has been decided, beyond the possibility of reversal, would you continue to watch the continuing analysis, night after night, once you had been assured of the outcome? How many viewers – of the millions watching – might stop watching? A few? Some? Many? Most? Viewership would decline. Advertisers who had paid for commercial time would be angry that the same network or station that sold them time had then driven the audience away by telling them the truth – the analysis is complete; the contest is over!

On a less controversial matter than Presidential politics, have you ever seen a baseball game in which one team takes a 9 or 10 run lead after only a few innings – and the TV announcer says something like: “No lead is safe in this stadium, folks!” Is that true? Of course not. But imagine the chagrin of all those advertisers who bought time in the 4th or 5th inning, not to mention those with TV spots scheduled to run in the 8th or 9th innings. In politics as in baseball, if you’re waiting to see who wins, you can leave now. But, if you are in broadcasting, you can never let them go!

The same principle applies to all Election Coverage, on ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN, FOX NEWS and MSNBC… all of them. When you watch those programs – no matter how much you may like a particular “host” or supposed reporter or purported pundit – they are there to entertain you; you are being entertained; and you are paying for it by agreeing to be exposed to the commercials that makeup part of the $82 billion in annual broadcast advertising revenue.

So, in these final few days before Election Day, you may be fairly certain that –on TV anyway – the race will get closer and closer, tighter and tighter, the battleground states will get more intense, the fight will become fierce.

And then, of course, the landslide will ensue as if all previous predictions and frantic warnings never happened.

On TV, nobody who wants to continue working on TV will tell you the truth until the last dollar is safely stashed in the cash register. C'mon now, sing along... "Let me entertain you."

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