Wearing Out The Brand | NBC New York

Wearing Out The Brand

Obama risks early overexposure

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    The photogenic President Obama may wear viewers out by going to the well -- or the TV screen -- too often so early in his administration. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

    The Washington Postreports that President Obama plans on three prime-time addresses within three weeks.

    Now, Obama has -- so far -- been great for the newspaper and magazine business. His story has been new and Americans have wanted to read more about him and his family. Anything Obama has been selling, giving the beleaguered publishing industry a much needed shot in the arm (the Amazing Spider-Man featuring Obama has gone through an unprecedented five printings). At least, this has been the case since the election, through the transition and the inauguration. Whether that continues as the day-to-day blows of politics take place is an open question.

    But, it's important to realize that the economics of publishing and broadcast television are radically different. Magazine and newspaper readers have literally thousands of options for their purchasing dollars. They can buy something with Obama on the cover or go with something else. Editors make calculated decisions on a daily and weekly basis as to what is going to catch a reader's eye. Maybe it will be something to do with the president; maybe not. The point is the editors can choose whether the placement of the president on the cover can help their circulation and subsequent ad sales.

    Broadcast TV is a much different beast. Programmers depend on their regular series to build a following, with which they then sell air time based on those shows' ratings.

    As the Post shows, Obama's decision to turn himself into a de facto weekly series does the exact opposite for television that his image does for publishing:

    President Obama's desire to talk -- and talk, and talk -- to the American public
    could cost broadcast networks millions, and millions, and millions of prime-time
    TV dollars.
    Broadcasters are bracing themselves for the likelihood of three prime-time interruptions in three weeks, totaling at least three hours of prime time -- and ad breaks -- yanked.
    "His economic stimulus package apparently does not extend to the TV networks," one network exec noted.
    Obama's reps have alerted broadcasters that the president will hold a news conference Monday, according to network execs. It's expected to eat up the first hour of prime time; that alone could cost broadcasters more than $9 million in lost ad revenue.
    That would be followed by a special message on Feb. 16th on the economic stimulus and then the already-expected not-quite State of the Union on Feb. 24th. (And that doesn't even count Obama's appearances this week with all three networks to explain his "screw-up" on the Tom Daschle nomination.)

    That's more than the networks calculated for what is still considered a "sweeps month" -- when the number of eyeballs watching TV are calculated most closely in order to assess ad rates. So they are taking a major economic hit.

    But this TV saturation may backfire on the star himself. Obama may feel that this is necessary to get his initial package through Congress, it may backfire: He who lives by the TV sword, may die a quick death from it as well. Obama may accelerate the waning of the American people's natural curiosity about their new chief executive.

    The president might remember what happened to "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" ten years ago. It was a ratings phenomenon -- so much so that ABC started to schedule it every night. Viewers quickly grew tired of it and it flamed out almost as quickly as it first skyrocketed into the consciousness.

    The public likes the new president right now -- and recognizes the challenges he faces. But public patience will wane particularly fast if they feel he insists on being in the country's face a little bit more frequently than is either necessary or desirable.

    Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots and dabbles in stand-up comedy.