With Sen. Barack Obama poised to make history as the first African-American presidential nominee of a major political party, BET and TV One will significantly step up their coverage of the Democratic National Convention in August.
BET, which covered the 2004 Republican and Democratic presidential conventions on a limited basis, will offer more than five hours of on-air convention coverage from Denver, as well as provide a robust online offering which will allow users to provide user-generated content surrounding the convention.
The four-year-old TV One, which is covering its inaugural presidential campaign, will provide blanket coverage of the four-day convention, including live primetime coverage and a nightly post-convention show, said its president, Johnathan Rodgers.
Both networks say the historical presidential run of the U.S. senator from Illinois is the driving force behind their unprecedented coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign.
“If Obama were not the presumptive nominee, we would not have covered the convention at all,” said Rodgers. “This is a huge event in the history of African-Americans and we are a network that's proud of the fact that 93% of our audience is black. Not only do we feel an obligation to cover it well, we feel it is part of our promise to our viewers.”
While the 43.2 million-subscriber network's live coverage will be hosted by XM Satellite Radio personality Joe Madison and CN8 anchor Arthur Fennell, Rodgers said the broadcast will be simple and straightforward. “We will cover that extensively in a way that C-SPAN or PBS covers it,” he said. “Our audience will be able to see what's going on at the convention — we will not overwhelm them with commentary, interviews or other features. It will be mostly pure convention coverage, with Arthur and Joe as our guides through the process.”
At the conclusion of each night's convention coverage, Rodgers said the network will host a live show that will serve as a news/entertainment recap of the night's events.
The show will be hosted by radio personality Jackie Reid along with celebrity husband-and-wife team of Michael Eric Dyson and Marcia Dyson. The show will also feature other personalities such as actor Hill Harper, comedian Cheryl Underwood, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and TV One chef/on-air personality G. Garvin.
“The show will be similar to going home after you've been out to the graduation or to the wedding, going to the kitchen and talking about the event with your friends and family,” Rodgers said.
The 87 million-subscriber BET, which effectively began its coverage of Obama's march toward the Democratic nomination June 3 with live coverage of the speech he delivered when he clinched the delegates needed to win, believes its target audience of 18-to-34-year-old African-Americans will look for the network to provide thorough, multiplatform coverage of the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“Beyond the politics of it all, this is historic, and it's the historic nature of all this that we are focusing on for our core audience,” said BET vice president of news and public affairs Keith Brown. “This is the first time that this has happened in any of our lifetimes, so we're devoting additional time to cover [the election].”
While the network is still finalizing its Democratic convention show details, Brown said BET will offer some five hours of convention coverage over various dayparts during the four-day event.
The network will also look to create convention elements in several of its regularly-scheduled shows, such as 106 & Park and Rap City, as well as news vignettes that would air in primetime.
Online, the network's “Decision '08” area on its bet.com Web site will feature live blogs and opportunities for viewers to upload photographs and other content about the election, according to BET vice president of digital content Nick Charles.
“We want people to share their thoughts and experiences as they're watching this man give his nomination speech,” he said. “There are going to be tons of people gathering and celebrating whether it's at home, at bars, barber shops and restaurants when he gives his nomination speech and accepts the nomination. We want to be geared to give people a sense of how holistic and how national this will be.”
Neither BET nor TV One are planning extensive coverage of the Republican National Convention a month later in Minneapolis. Rodgers doesn't apologize for concentrating the network's resources on the Democratic convention.
“In the cable landscape, there are so many other outlets for seeking other coverage [of the Presidential race] that I don't feel an obligation to do it,” he said. “We are a network whose mission is to celebrate the achievement of African-Americans — Barack Obama is the ultimate African-American and that's why we're there and we're unapologetic about it.”