Dem Convention Is Gravy to NECN, CN8

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Some national news organizations are scaling back coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Boston next week, by historic standards. But not regional networks New England Cable News and CN8, The Comcast Network. They’re planning to go all out.

From July 26 through July 29, NECN, a partnership of Comcast Corp. and Hearst Corp., will devote 18 hours daily to the official nomination of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) as presidential and vice presidential candidates, as well as all other things and events Democratic from the convention site at the Fleet Center and around The Hub.

For its part, CN8 will supply DNC coverage each night from 7:30-11:30 p.m. to its 6.2 million subscribers extending along the East Coast from Baltimore to New England.

COAST TO COAST

CN8 also will provide the feed to all 21 million Comcast Cable subscribers nationwide, as well as to other MSOs. Comcast VOD-enabled subscribers will also be able to access the coverage.

“This is a national story, not necessarily of more interest for someone in Boston than a guy in Detroit, or other markets around the country,” CN8 general manager Jon Gorchow said. “If history is any indicator, we should get a fair amount of pick-up” from other cable channels, he said.

In 2000, when the Republican National Convention was held in the Comcast-owned First Union Center in Philadelphia (now the Wachovia Center), the feed was disseminated to some 60 million cable subscribers. This year’s coverage will carry a network identifier: “Campaign 2004: The Democratic National Convention presented by CN8, The Comcast Network.”

Comcast’s On Demand subscribers will also have access to any or all of CN8’s DNC reportage for up to 14 days after its conclusion.

The blitz is a natural for Boston-based NECN, news director Charles Kravetz said. “This is one of the biggest events in the history of the city, and it’s a real local tale: John Kerry can walk from his home to the Fleet Center.”

NECN’s news coverage is already politically infused and features such shows as News Night. “With the other networks providing less coverage than in the past, we think this will give us a competitive advantage. No other outlet could do this,” Kravetz said.

CN8’s schedule also is loaded with politics, with shows like Comcast Newsmakers and viewpoint series Battling Bills.

Gorchow’s network will initiate coverage from a news studio in New Castle, Del., at 7:30 p.m., reporting on the day’s events and setting up the evening’s activities.

The network will then throw things to Lynn Doyle, CN8’s political director and host of It’s Your Call, in a Fleet Center skybox, while anchor Arthur Fennell, political reporter Laura Jones and New New England Newsmakers host Sarah Zapp report live from the convention floor.

CN8 political consultant Larry Kane will contribute to the broadcasts, as will Republican Bill Palatucci and Democrat Bill Pascrellie, hosts of the Battling Bills, who will provide their pointed views from the skybox.

CN8 Nitebeat Host Barry Nolan will cover the city’s social scene and celebrations.

Led by Gorchow and executive producer Susan Carden, CN8 will deploy north of 100 production staffers and talent for DNC coverage, likely to include interviews with Congressional members from Comcast states.

“With other networks cutting back, you can turn to CN8,” Gorchow said. “For those who aren’t political mavens, we hope they’ll tune in and find our coverage interesting and entertaining. And it will be heaven for political junkies.”

NECN GOES ALL OUT

NECN’s coverage will be more extensive. On July 20, NECN will air a network-produced 90-minute documentary entitled John Kerry: A Confrontation with History.

On July 26, starting at 6 a.m. and continuing through 3 p.m., Mike Nikitas and Leslie Gaydow will anchor coverage from a remote location near Faneuil Hall market, reviewing the previous night’s speeches and parties, and updating traffic snafus and the day’s developments on the floor.

At 3 p.m., NECN will shift focus to a Fleet Center skybox studio, where anchors R.D. Sahl and Amanda Rosseter preside over network analysis and interviews with politicians, analysts, delegates and others, according to Kravetz.

Evening coverage will be interspersed by a collaborative effort between the regional net’s news analysis show NewsNight and PBS station WGBH’s public affairs show, Greater Boston. Chet Curtis and Jim Braude will combine with WGBH’s Emily Rooney to put matters into perspective from 7-9 p.m., with the presentation simulcast on both outlets.

Look for more than just developments in the Fleet Center and delegate meetings and other Democratic activities from around town.

“We will continue to report news, weather and sports nationally and focus on local/regional scenes from our news bureaus in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut,” Kravetz said.

With adjoining skyboxes and Comcast as a common owner, there figures to be a fair amount of cooperation between the networks.

“We hope to get the same access CN8 gets,” Kravetz said.

Added Gorchow: “We’re going to work together and support what they do and vice versa. If we get a scoop, we’re going to pass it along to them.”

With around 75 people inside the Fleet Center, the DNC coverage represents the largest news undertaking in NECN’s 12-year history.

Kravetz expects viewer interest, but he’s not sure how much. “The last time a candidate from Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, was the Democratic Presidential nominee, he blew a 16-point lead in the polls. The Democrats certainly don’t want a repeat of that with another candidate from Massachusetts,” he said. “Overall, I don’t think the country has ever been more politically divided, at least in modern times.”

RATINGS TALK

Boston is the only city where NECN is measured from a ratings perspective, and ironically the event could prompt some locals to get out of town.

“With 35,000 Democrats and 1,500 journalists in town, there are going to be traffic problems. People are being encouraged to stay out of the city, work at home or go on vacation,” Kravetz said.

“I [think] we’d be happy with a [household] rating of between 1 and 2 throughout the day.”

Ratings notwithstanding, Kravetz wants to make an impression. “We want people to say that they saw high-quality, sophisticated coverage, and that we came through for them,” he said.

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