News Articles

Viewers Electing Not to Watch Yet

Debates have helped primary season, but broadcast news execs say interest has been slow to build 2/06/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Nation Expands

One news division betting on increasing viewer interest in the election is CBS News.

Starting April 1, CBS will expand its Sundaymorning public affairs program Face the Nation from a half-hour to one hour to capitalize on building interest in the campaign. The show has seen its viewership increase 4 percent (and a strong 29 percent in the target adults 25-54 demo) in the first quarter to date compared to last year.

“Our numbers have just really been good this year, so Jeff Fager [CBS News chairman] and David Rhodes [CBS News president] decided, well, we’ve been talking about doing this for a long time, why don’t we just do it,” says Bob Schieffer, anchor of Face the Nation.

On Jan. 29 the program did a trial run of sorts, broadcasting a special one-hour edition days before the Florida primary, the first time it has devoted an hour to an election. And if the news demands it, Face the Nation may do more one-hour episodes before the official expansion in April.

“That’s to be determined, depending on how this race goes,” Schieffer says. “If it sort of settles down now we probably won’t, but if it continues to get hot we may go back to them.”

The initial plan is for the show to run in the expanded format for 20 weeks, bringing it almost until the GOP convention in August. But if the ratings continue to be good, the change could stick.

“I would hope that this becomes a permanent thing, but it’s up to us now,” Schieffer says. “I guarantee you if we do well, it will be on next year at an hour.” —AM

The 2012 presidential primary season
has already been going on in earnest
for nine months now, but so far it has
been a slow build to get viewers beyond
the political junkies interested in the action.

“It’s been challenging to get people interested
in politics this year,” says Jon Banner, executive
producer of ABC’s This Week. “That’s frustrating
for those of us in the news business.”

Betsy Fischer, executive producer of NBC’s
Meet the Press, adds: “I think this time we’ve seen
interest maybe not as much earlier in the process.
People are just now starting to tune in more and
are becoming more engaged in things.”

There have been 19 GOP primary debates
so far this election cycle, but
despite the surfeit, some broadcast
execs say it has helped spur
viewer interest in the election.

“The only thing that has garnered
any interest at all has been
the debates,” Banner says.

Others, however, believe viewers may be
growing weary. After hitting a viewership high
for ABC’s Dec. 10 debate with 7.63 million viewers,
the audience for debates has dropped off,
although NBC’s Jan. 23 event came within about
a half-million viewers of that December high.

“With the debate coverage you’ve seen a dropoff,
I think, maybe just because there has been
such a saturation of debates,” Fischer says.

But everyone can agree it has been great theater—
and great for certain candidates, especially
Newt Gingrich, who has taken to creating debates
made for television by playing off the audience’s
reactions and getting into heated exchanges
with the moderators. And his performance
seems to have paid off for him: In the South
Carolina primary that Gingrich
somewhat surprisingly won, 88
percent of voters said the debates
were a factor in their decision.

“Newt Gingrich has really
only lasted this long because of
his performance in the debates,”
Banner says. “These debates have given life to
candidates where otherwise there wasn’t any.”

And that lifeline comes in the form of not only
free TV publicity and increased voter interest,
but the crucial aspect of fundraiser dollars.

“[Gingrich] is already one up on Lazarus;
people declare him dead, and then he rises
from the dead and he comes back,” jokes Bob
Schieffer, anchor of CBS’ Face the Nation.

Though Gingrich came in a distant second
to Mitt Romney in the Florida primary last
week, Gingrich’s failure to concede defeat
means everyone in TV news is not expecting
him to drop out anytime soon, and in fact are
hoping the Republican race lasts as long as
possible. “It’s the best possible outcome for us;
we want this to be a race,” Banner says.

0206 Cover Story Mixed Bag

“My only bias is to keep the story going and
to have a great story to cover,” Fischer says. “Of
course the longer it goes, the more interesting
it is and the more there is for us to talk about
on the program. Politics is bread and butter for
Meet the Press so as long as that topic is top of
people’s minds, that’s what we like.”

And there is, of course, the lingering possibility
that the Republican race could go all
the way to a brokered convention, something
that hasn’t happened since 1976, when Ronald
Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford.

If that happens, the August convention,
which usually offers a lot of pomp and circumstance
but not much else, would turn into
a real news event.

“As a reporter, I hope it does [go to convention]
because it just would be so much
fun,” Schieffer says. “I kind of hope that is
what happens.”

Nation Expands

One news division betting on increasing viewer interest in the election is CBS News.

Starting April 1, CBS will expand its Sundaymorning public affairs program Face the Nation from a half-hour to one hour to capitalize on building interest in the campaign. The show has seen its viewership increase 4 percent (and a strong 29 percent in the target adults 25-54 demo) in the first quarter to date compared to last year.

“Our numbers have just really been good this year, so Jeff Fager [CBS News chairman] and David Rhodes [CBS News president] decided, well, we’ve been talking about doing this for a long time, why don’t we just do it,” says Bob Schieffer, anchor of Face the Nation.

On Jan. 29 the program did a trial run of sorts, broadcasting a special one-hour edition days before the Florida primary, the first time it has devoted an hour to an election. And if the news demands it, Face the Nation may do more one-hour episodes before the official expansion in April.

“That’s to be determined, depending on how this race goes,” Schieffer says. “If it sort of settles down now we probably won’t, but if it continues to get hot we may go back to them.”

The initial plan is for the show to run in the expanded format for 20 weeks, bringing it almost until the GOP convention in August. But if the ratings continue to be good, the change could stick.

“I would hope that this becomes a permanent thing, but it’s up to us now,” Schieffer says. “I guarantee you if we do well, it will be on next year at an hour.” —AM

 

Alert to All Users of the Disqus commenting system:
Because of a recent global security issue, the Disqus website recommends that all users change their Disqus passwords. Here's a URL about the issue:
http://engineering.disqus.com/2014/04/10/heartbleed.html

 

April
May