President Obama: Bad News For Primetime?

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

President Obama will talk about the economic stimulus plan in tonight's primetime news conference, but the very networks he's using to reach the American public are getting the opposite of a stimulus.

Obama's presser will cost ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX about fifteen million dollars in ad revenue, about three and a half to four million dollars each, more or less depending on the popularity of their regularly scheduled programming.

It's a perfect storm in terms of bad timing. Tonight's press conference will dominate one of the most popular time slots — 8 to 9 pm — on one of the highest-rated days of the week. It's also during the crucial "Sweeps" period, giving network affiliates one less day to show advertisers the value of their ad time. And this couldn’t come at a worse time for the networks that are struggling with declining ad revenues and the shift of viewers from broadcast to cable TV.

Tonight's addition is setting off a domino-like string of changes, disrupting a carefully balanced schedule. Fox's American Idol behemoth is pushing back a day, so it'll air Wednesday and Thursday, facing off with CBS' Survivor special on Wednesday and popular NCAA basketball on Thursday. We'll see if Idol's move results in lower ratings on Thursday, when basketball and confusion could result in fewer viewers.

ABC is dropping its usually well-rated hour of its "Dancing with the Stars" recap. But, unlike CBS and Fox, it's not pushing the hour until later in the week. And the affiliates really lose out — they're particularly suffering from the decline in local ad revenue, so this is bad timing for them.

Who wins? Cable networks! They'll be wise to counter program with fun reality shows and movies. All those people hoping to tune into American Idol will need somewhere to turn if they're Obama-ed out.

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