Network will air opening inaugural ceremonies

HBO will televise Barack Obama’s inaugural kickoff ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18, in what is being billed as a star-studded event with top performers from music and entertainment.

Obama’s Presidential Inaugural Committee said the ceremony will be free and open to the public, but HBO will get the exclusive rights to show it. The cabler will make the 90-minute event available for free to all of those with cable or satellite services, not just HBO subscribers. Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden are scheduled to be in attendance.

Obama’s team has promised one of the most open and accessible inaugurals in history. The event will be open for news coverage, although it is unclear just how much electronic press will be allowed to cover given the exclusive arrangement with HBO.

Back in 1993, at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton, HBO paid a reported $1.5 million for the exclusive rights to televise a similar kickoff event at the Lincoln Memorial, with Jack Nicholson delivering historical readings, and entertainment from Tony Bennett, Diana Ross and Ray Charles. But there was some controversy because the ceremony was then available only to HBO subscribers. CNN and C-SPAN did show portions of the event, but not the entertainment.

Clinton’s team also sold exclusive rights to a children’s event to the Disney Channel, and purchased time to show an inaugural gala on CBS.

A spokesman for Obama’s inaugural committee, Brent Colburn, would not say if or how much HBO paid for the rights. Asked about access to the ceremony for those who do not have cable, such as showing it on a Webcast, Colburn said that they “are working on details on how we can amplify the event beyond HBO.”

Like Clinton, Obama also has a children’s inaugural event scheduled on Jan. 19, but no broadcast or cable entity has been announced for those rights.

No entertainment has been announced for the fete, although sources have indicated that Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce and Stevie Wonder have been approached about performing some time during the four days of events planned for Obama’s inaugural.

Obama’s inaugural committee has been raising money via individual contributions to pay for the cost of various inaugural events, including entertainment, balls and other celebrations. The government will pick up the tab for the cost of the swearing-in and other things like security. The committee is not taking donations from corporations or lobbyists, as has been done in the past.

HBO will show the event commercial free, which was a lure to Obama’s inaugural planners, but it is uncertain whether it will be shown live or on tape delay.

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