Barack Obama wants change of venue

Decision to move speech alters TV coverage plans

NEW YORK -- Barack Obama's decision to accept the Democratic nomination at a Denver football stadium instead of a convention center throws a wrench into the networks' coverage plans.

No network has finalized its plans for covering the Democratic National Convention in August or the GOP's event in early September in St. Paul, Minn. But the networks have budgeted millions of dollars, from transporting anchors and staff both cities to the costs of cameras and cables and dozens of other line items. The decision, announced Monday, to move Obama's acceptance speech from the 19,000-seat Pepsi Center to the 76,000-seat Invesco Field has upended what the networks had thought was the plan with less than two months to go.

"It's going to cost us all more than we budgeted, and we'll have to figure out how to handle it," CBS News senior vp Paul Friedman said.

Early steps were made Monday, when the networks had a conference call to decide what to do. Fox News Channel previously had been selected to handle the pool coverage, and that won't change. Marty Ryan, executive producer of political coverage at Fox News, said some resources originally earmarked for the venue over four days will move to Invesco for the convention's final day.

"It's just a question of how big in each place," Ryan said. "That we're still resolving."

But what's certain is that the networks will have to spend millions more in total to cover the Democratic convention, and they already are over budget.

Covering the political conventions has grown less important to the broadcast networks, which no longer provide the gavel-to-gavel coverage they did years ago. That's been supplanted mostly by cable coverage, with ABC, CBS and NBC devoting about an hour a night Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before the nominee's acceptance speech Thursday. The networks say the conventions are, for the most part, not news. There isn't a lot of suspense with the nominations locked up long ago.

"Certainly for the networks, it's going to raise the issue as to whether we really need to do Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday," Friedman said. "It's the kind of is¬sue we've all danced around: How much convention coverage is necessary when there are no news developments?"

That doesn't mean that there won't be any coverage or even a major cut on the broadcast nets. Nothing's been decided, though the feeling before Monday was that the nets would have an hour a night with their anchors there all four days. Each network will have access to the pool coverage and, for instance, could cover key speeches not with their anchors on site but from the desk in New York. With the cost of building a set at the Pepsi Center about $600,000 and faced with the prospect of building another set at Invesco, it may not be the best choice for the broadcast networks to build two sets.

"The change in the schedule and venue have called into question our planning so far," ABC News spokeswoman Emily Lenzner said. "And because of the change in circumstances we're now taking a fresh look at everything, which takes time and more planning."

Said CBS News' Friedman: "Any news operation that didn't look at it hard would be irresponsible." But he said there would be no doubt that the networks would be there in force for Obama's speech, whether it was held indoors or out.

"That's going to be an historic night," Friedman said. "It's going to be worth covering, and you want your anchor there."

Fox News and MSNBC were planning to center their shows and coverage outside of the arena as it was; CNN Washington bureau chief David Bohrman said his network will be well served by its election bus that has traveled the country during the primary season and has four high-definition cameras aboard.

"All we're going to need to do is get our bus two miles away from Pepsi to Invesco," he said.

So far there are no changes to the Republican National Convention, which will be held Sept. 1-5, beginning three days after the Democratic convention ends. The cost of the coverage of that convention apparently is coming in under budget, but for fairness reasons, if the coverage of the Democrats is altered then it's likely that the broadcast nets will do the same for the Republicans.

"That's the next set of questions," one exec said. "We're all going to be sensitive to that."

Brooks Boliek in Washington contributed to this report.
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