It looks like a lot of people won't be able to see the opening ceremony of what's being billed as the "People's Inauguration."
The folks at HBO, who brought us Tony Soprano and Carrie Bradshaw, will add President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden to their lineup Jan. 18 when the cable network televises the star-studded opening ceremony of the inauguration festivities from the Lincoln Memorial.
The pay network, which snagged exclusive rights to the 90-minute show, will open the signal, meaning viewers with cable or satellite systems will be able to tune in, whether or not they're HBO subscribers.
But the estimated 20 million U.S. households without cable or satellite TV will be left in the dark during the opening event of an inauguration celebration that's spurred unprecedented interest.
HBO is reportedly looking into streaming the show, but it's far from clear how many households that still rely on antennas are wired for the Internet.
A spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Commission sidestepped the blackout issue, telling The Wall Street Journal, “HBO is to be commended. It was not an easy thing to find someone who was willing to do 90 minutes of programming commercial free. People who want to watch this from their homes, are going to be able to do that.”
It wasn't immediately clear how much HBO paid for the broadcast rights. But would it really hurt HBO to let, say, PBS or another old-school free-TV outlet simulcast the ceremony so roughly 15 percent of U.S. households with TVs can watch the prelude to Jan. 20's historic inauguration?
Look at this way: with the switchover to digital TV a month away, many folks already might be contemplating a move to cable or satellite. HBO should consider this an opportunity to build some good will among potential customers -- and just maybe the next president.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.