Nets weigh convention pricetag

Experts estimate news divisions to spend up to $4 mil

NEW YORK — Think of it as a four-year vanity plate renewal. And a pricey one at that.

Each of the U.S. news networks want to look its best when the Democratic National Convention opens this week in Boston, and each is shelling out big bucks.

Industry experts estimate that the broadcast news divisions will each spend somewhere around $3-$4 million to cover the Democratic and Republican conventions. GOP confab gets underway in Gotham the week of Aug. 30.

Pricetag likely jumps by $2-3 million in the case of NBC News, which has purview over MSNBC.

Adding in CNN and Fox News Channel, U.S. news nets will collectively spend upwards of $20 million.

ABC News political director Mark Halperin says this year’s presidential race is one of the most important in the country’s history. He said the conventions are a key part of the process, even if they provide little breaking news anymore.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher,” Halperin said.

“This race has an appeal that goes beyond political junkies. You start that off with the 9/11 mentality and the fact that this not just a race for class president, but a race for the leader and protector of the free world,” Halperin says.

News execs dismiss concerns that the broadcast nets aren’t providing enough primetime coverage, reminding that there is plenty of sustained coverage being provided by network news websites, 24/7 cable news nets and the latest rage in political news, Internet blogs.

ABC is even offering affils a new digital news channel, ABC News Now, which bows at noon on July 26 with Peter Jennings hosting. Competish is scoffing at the offering, saying that it will only reach a few million people at best.

NBC News exec producer for special events Mark Lukasiewicz said the Peacock has a distinct advantage over ABC News and CBS News in that it has MSNBC, home of political TV host Chris Matthews, who will help lead convention coverage on the cable side.

But the Alphabet and Eye remind that millions more Americans will get their convention coverage from broadcast than from cable.

Market leader Fox News Channel and CNN also are out in full force in Boston.

This week, ABC, CBS and NBC have committed to carrying three hours of primetime convention coverage — Monday at 10 p.m. ET; Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET and Thursday at 10 p.m. ET. During the Republican National Convention in late August, the nets will all carry special convention coverage, likely along the same lines.

Broadcast news execs also remind that in addition to the primetime hours, they will carry extensive convention reports on their morning shows, weekday evening newscasts and Sunday public affairs programs.

“One thing we do well is bring these big events that are part of the American fabric to viewers. The message is still important,” says CBS News VP for news coverage Marcy McGinnis.

In primetime, it’s doubtful that the broadcast nets will see a healthy ratings return, as compared to the return for entertainment fare.

Everyone likes to point out that on the first night of the Republican convention in 2000, roughly 6 million watched ABC’s coverage. In the same hour, about 10 million viewers watched a rerun of “Third Watch” on NBC. It’s never economical to preempt primetime entertainment, but the impact will be offset by the fact that these are indeed the dog days of summer.

Still, those nets with strong performers aren’t taking any chances. On Monday July 26, CBS is moving “CSI: Miami” from 10 p.m. to 9 p.m., while NBC is postponing the series finale of “Who Wants to Marry My Dad.”

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