Live News Programming: Jackson vs. Sotomayor

By Erik Sorenson 

Some in the print media are mocking their broadcast brethren for not covering this week’s hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. The major broadcast networks interrupted regular programming last week for the Michael Jackson memorial service, but Sotomayor coverage has been relegated to cable channels and the internet. As always when there’s a big event, envy overtakes logic–after all, there’s nothing a newspaper can do with a live event except provide analysis and criticize the electronic media. It’s an old story–and a sad one.

Look, these kinds of decisions (they used to be battle royals between divisions) are actually easier than they used to be before cable and the internet. Broadcast networks need a certain threshold of interest and/or importance to interrupt regular programming, but NBC and Fox can always take a pass arguing that its coverage can be accessed via MSNBC and FNC (which leaves out those who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite, but that’s another story.) And now, with broadband nearly ubiquitous, CBS and ABC can point their news audience to their websites and stick to “As the World Turns” and “All My Children.”

Why wasnt the “threshold” met this week? Broadcast execs guessed (probably accurately) that there was less national interest in Sotomayor’s ascension than in Jackson’s demise. Of course, we’ll never know for sure if the guess was correct but we’ll be able to extrapolate an answer later this week when the ratings are reported.

One final note: more than 30-million people watched the Jackson Memorial last week–a big number, without doubt. However, as big as it was, it still fell short of the average audience on just one network for one program–“American Idol.” That’s a reminder of how successful “Idol” is and why insiders call it “Event Programming.”

Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. He oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company, including ShopTalk & TVSPY. If you would like to comment on Remote Control, or want to reach Erik, email remotecontrol@tvspy.

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