Obama decision costly for networks

Change in nomination plans causes issues

Barack Obama is making TV’s job of covering the Democrats’ August convention harder and more expensive.

The presumed Dem presidential nominee announced Monday that he would accept the nomination at Denver’s 79,000-seat Invesco Field, where the Broncos play — not at the 21,000-seat Pepsi Center arena, where all the convention’s lead-up events will take place.

The cable news nets and network news divisions must now plan for logistics and costs for two locations.The first three nights of the convention, which runs Aug. 25-28, will be held at the Pepsi Center; the final night will shift to the stadium for Obama’s acceptance speech.

Obama’s announcement prompted the nets to start “a conversation about pool coverage” for the final night, said David Bohrman, CNN’s D.C. bureau chief. The news ops of ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and CNN joined in a conference call Monday afternoon to begin preliminary planning.

Details about what will happen — and when it will happen — at Invesco Field on Thursday night, Aug. 28, have yet to be worked out by the Democratic National Convention Committee, so it would be premature for the nets to set any firm plans at this point. Bohrman said internetwork talks will continue until all needed info is available.

But some see major obstacles and possible negative impacts on coverage leading up to the final night.

“Additional costs are sure to be substantial,” said one network news producer. “All of the facilities for transmission, the skybox sets, workspaces are all at the Pepsi Center. My guess is that convention planners for all the nets are already wrestling with how to cover this. It’s likely that they will pool cameras for Obama’s speech, and each major network will have one or more unilateral cameras with correspondents in the stadium, and those signals will have to be switched by satellite or microwave to election control rooms. All of this will add substantially to the costs, and I would not be a bit surprised if the major noncable networks scaled back coverage of the convention leading up to the final night.”

CBS News senior veep Paul Friedman said his network will consider doing just that. “This decision could focus attention on the question for all news networks of whether we need to have a big amount of staff and top anchors at the first three nights,” Friedman said.

Asked how much of a headache the second location poses, Friedman laughed, then said, “It’s an enormous headache. It means two very different locations, especially for setting up equipment to do it right. I’m not sure it will double our costs, but it could come close.”

Bohrman, however, expects the impact to be minimal for CNN. “One of my first thoughts after hearing the announcement was, Thank goodness we have the bus,” he said, referring to CNN’s “Election Express,” essentially a small studio on wheels. While the bus will not be the network’s principal asset at the Pepsi Center, it will be driven to Invesco Field for the last night.

Obama is known for drawing huge crowds to many of his speeches. In May, a record 75,000 jammed into a riverside park in Portland, Ore., to hear him speak shortly before that state’s primary.

Obama told reporters in St. Louis that he was excited about the dual locations.

“Sometimes our conventions don’t feel like they are open to everybody,” Obama said. “For us to be able to do it in Invesco Field is an opportunity for 80,000 people who might otherwise not have been able to participate to get involved.”

It won’t be the first time a presidential candidate has accepted the nomination in a stadium. On July 15, 1960, John F. Kennedy gave his acceptance speech before tens of thousands at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Obama’s acceptance speech on the final night of the convention will coincide with the 45th anni of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

Matt Burns, a spokesman for the Republican Convention, dismissed the new speech locale as “stagecraft and theatrics” that “isn’t the kind of change the American people deserve or expect.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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