End the duopoly

When Political Conventions Go Virtual, What Happens to the Traditional TV Coverage?


A week before the opening of the first virtual political convention in history (when the Democrats are going to gather nowhere and everywhere to nominate Joe Biden) the identity of the vice-presidential nominee is the not the only mystery hovering over the disembodied proceedings. Almost as important is how much coverage the still influential broadcast TV networks will devote to this summertime pageant of democracy and the Republican Convention to follow on August 24.

At the moment, it appears that ABC, CBS and NBC will continue to adhere to the 21st century coverage pattern by devoting an hour of prime time to the political speechifying on each of the four nights of both conventions. But without anchor booths, delegates on the floor, and rapturous spectators in the galleries, it remains an open question whether the restless network cameras will soon become bored with Zoom boxes and carefully curated bookcases as backdrops.

Every four years, the broadcast networks resist the beguiling temptation to totally cede convention coverage to cable and PBS. The decision to forsake lucrative prime-time programming during the hour between 10 and 11 p.m. is probably motivated less by civic obligation and more by fears of prompting an uproar on […]

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