TV Industry Awaits Historic Obama Inauguration


For producers and correspondents covering the inauguration, Tuesday is one for the history books.

Like everything surrounding the 2008 presidential campaign, the inauguration of Barack Obama dawns with broadcast media swinging for the fences. Not only are the usual suspects bringing their A teams, but cablers as diverse as BET, TV One, Al Jazeera and ESPN are offering live coverage of Obama's swearing-in. MTV will focus on inaugural coverage in the evening.

Add the expected crush of millions of the at-work audience tuning in around noon EST, and it's not a stretch to say this could be the most widely seen inauguration in U.S. history. The record, by far, is the 42 million who tuned in to see Ronald Reagan's first inauguration Jan. 20, 1981.

"If you love American history, this is the Super Bowl, and it caps a Super Bowl political season," said NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who will attend his seventh inauguration.

It also comes with Super Bowl-like expenses, if not Super Bowl-like advertising rates.

The networks have shelled out millions for pool coverage and millions more for extra camera angles, HD equipment and prime locations on and around Capitol Hill. The coverage is ad-supported, but ads will not be as plentiful as during regular programming.

ABC's ceremony coverage is sponsored by Audi, so it will not include commercials. CNN goes commercial-free at 11 a.m. and into the afternoon. MSNBC will not take commercial breaks before or after the noon swearing-in but will carry a normal load later.

For several weeks, producers have screened footage of past inaugural moments: Reagan's first in 1981, John F. Kennedy's in 1961 and whatever they can find from what might be the most analogous, the March 1933 swearing-in of Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. The first inauguration with sound film is Herbert Hoover's in 1929.

JFK's memorable "Ask not what your country can do for you ..." moment undoubtedly will get lots of play, but its production values, while in color, are not as strong as they could be. Producers said there is a shaky camera and "challenged" technical remotes.

"CBS Evening News" executive producer Rick Kaplan, a veteran of every inauguration since 1973, said there is pressure on every network to make sure this one is covered perfectly.

"It's an extraordinary event, and you want to get it right," he said. "What everyone wants to do is report in a way fitting the amazing importance of the event. This is a critical period in our country's history -- you want to have your A game on this story."

Coverage plans have been in the works since Election Night. Each broadcast and news network has taken a piece of the ceremony to add to pool coverage, available to all networks who pay for it.

Continue to next page →