Time‘s TV critic James Poniewozik examines the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions as the TV spectacles they are. Yes, he talks about the ratings spin, but he also addresses a larger question: how much do the conventions matter, and how much TV coverage is warranted?
If conventions are no longer about convincing the undecided, is there still as much public interest in networks carrying them? TV has cut back in recent conventions to begin with, for self-interested reasons but also on the grounds that they’re really free political advertising. But at least there’s an argument for free political advertising, if genuinely undecided viewers are looking to it for information to make a decision. If conventions are more and more about base-motivation, TV coverage is less a public service to the viewers and more a public service to the parties. (Though one argument for that, maybe, is that it’s massive “free media” that balances out the influence of political-ad money.)