More than $5 million paid for TV inaugural events

By | January 16, 2009 at 10:15 PM
Television networks paid more than $5 million for exclusive rights to show events surrounding President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration, including Sunday’s Lincoln Memorial concert and the Neighborhood Ball where Beyonce will serenade the new first couple.Nearly half the money, $2.5 million, will be paid by HBO. The cable network is showing Sunday’s concert – featuring U2, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and others – live and will repeat it that night.

Obama’s inaugural committee said the Walt Disney Co. is paying $2 million to show Tuesday’s Neighborhood Ball on ABC and for a kids’ concert Monday on The Disney Channel. MTV is paying $650,000 for a Youth Ball that will be shown worldwide.

“The whole idea here is for millions and millions of people to be a part of this and open it up and be accessible,” said Jim Margolis, who is helping to put the events together for Obama’s team. “And the way to do that is to put it on television.”

The networks will pay the licensing fee to the production company RK Denver, not the inaugural committee. Margolis said it would cover a third of the cost of the television productions, with the inaugural committee covering the rest. Participating artists are performing for free.

HBO’s Lincoln Memorial concert will air at 2:30 p.m. EST live and again at 7 p.m. The pay cable network is making its feed available for free to everyone with cable or satellite TV.

Besides Beyonce’s serenade of Barack and Michelle Obama’s first dance of the night, the centerpiece Neighborhood Ball will include entertainment from Jay-Z, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Shakira, Sting, Faith Hill and Maroon 5. The press pool will be allowed to cover Obama’s remarks and the first dance, otherwise the event is all ABC’s.

Making the deal with ABC ensured that a full two hours of the ball would be televised, allowing people across the country to feel a part of it, Margolis said. If it were simply open to all networks, there would be no way of guaranteeing that all of it would be shown, he said.

The Disney Channel event features entertainment from hot kids’ acts such as the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus.

Several networks expressed interest in licensing the events, but Margolis said the ABC-Disney connection proved an advantage when time was tight.

MTV’s telecast is being shown in 162 countries in 33 languages. The network is doing a show that features youth service projects, interspersed with such artists as Fall Out Boy at the Youth Ball.

ABC Entertainment, not its news division, is airing the ball. Bob Steele, a DePauw University professor and scholar for journalism values at the Poynter Institute, said he would have questions if news personnel were involved in a paid-for event that was shutting out other journalists. Otherwise, he likened the licensing arrangement as similar to one network showing the Super Bowl or an awards show.

The precedence of such licensing arrangements at inaugural events is unclear. Margolis said he believed portions of past inaugural balls were televised, but not necessarily in full.

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