There was much criticism of the Fox broadcast network for deciding not to show President Obama’s press conference last night, but Fox’s airing of Lie to Me beat the press conference, and was the #1 rated broadcast program at 8 PM. By the way, Obama showed his displeasure with Fox, but not giving Fox News a question last night.
According to tvnewser, Lie to Me finished with 7.9 million viewers compared to 6.7 for NBC’s coverage of the Obama press conference. Overall, 19 million people watched Obama on ABC, NBC, and CBS. Don’t think for a minute that this wasn’t noticed by the other broadcast networks, as covering a prime time news conference, costs each of them $10 million in lost ad revenue.
Unless the press conference concerns breaking news, they never do well in the ratings. It doesn’t matter who the president is, unless it is big news, people usually aren’t interested in watching. Unlike former president George W. Bush, who avoided prime time events, President Obama has taken a more up front approach, and has used the primetime bully pulpit a great deal.
All administration’s want their events carried by as many media outlets as possible. It is almost a traditional in Executive Branch media relations, that when an administration is upset with an outlet, they show their displeasure by cutting back their access. Every president, going back at least to Johnson has done this. It is the only tool an administration has to try and compel the networks to give them coverage.
The Obama administration should be a little worried about this, because other networks could follow Fox’s lead in the future. To me, the answer is simple. They should hold all non-emergency press conferences in the afternoon. It would give the networks something to lead with at 6 PM, and they would not lose as primetime level ad revenue by covering it. Some people will try to inject partisan politics into the ratings, but this has more to do with ad revenue, and the love/hate relationship that all presidents have with the media.