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Marianne Paskowski

Obama Inaugural Committee Says ‘No You Can’t’

January 19, 2009 12:38 PM

HBO's Inaugural Coverage

I couldn’t believe my ears while watching CNN on Saturday and its coverage of the pre-inaugural ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial.

The event of the days was a free, star-studded concert for those in town for this momentous time in history, the swearing in of the nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama. But plenty of people at home could not see it if they didn’t have a computer or were not subscribers to pay cable channel HBO.

While the concert was going on, CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer repeatedly told viewers at home that CNN would not be covering the concert because its sister network HBO had the exclusive rights.

What kind of inclusiveness is that? And there’s more. HBO was not alone in making an exclusive media deal, having paid $2.5 million for the exclusive on the concert, according to published reports.

The Walt Disney Co. paid $2 million for two events that will run exclusively on its Disney Channel and the ABC network. Disney gets exclusive coverage of a children’s concert tonight on the Disney Channel. ABC, meanwhile, gets exclusive broadcast rights to air the first of the 10 official balls tomorrow night.

To me, this defies Obama’s mantra “Yes we can.” For viewers without cable television, it sure sounds more like “No we can’t.”


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Comments (37)

David Cohen:

Wow. I agree. Don't throw all of this stuff about history being made in our faces, then not make it available for everyone to see. Weak on their part, methinks.

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi David,
An unfortunate start out of the gate, and this is small potatoes compared to what he and his team will face on Wednesday, the morning after.

Today is Martin Luther King day, and yes, some people remain in back of the bus, or not on it at all.


Michael H.:

I might be wrong, but wasn't HBO unscrambling its signal so that people could watch it?

Yes, that would mean you would have to be a cable subscriber, but that would at least open up the market a little more to people who were hoping to see it on CNN.

But maybe where I heard it (on a radio talk show) had it wrong?


Sure you could have.
If more media companies had seen the value of these events, they would have bid them up.
Times being what they are, even the big guys are weighing their programming choices...

Marianne Paskowski:


From what I later read, HBO unscrambled the signal, but you wouldn't know that from Blitzer's repeated message that HBO has the exclusive rights, yesterday.

HBO also ran it on the web. My point being, in order to see it you needed either a computer or digital cable, not analogue cable service to see yesterday's concert.

I don't see why CNN or any other news gathering organization couldn't grab a clip from the concert. Blitzer and O'Brien sure had a lot of dead air time to fill yesterday as they were sitting outside on top of a museum outdoors, blathering about how big the crowd was or wasn't.

So thanks for your post, m

Marianne Paskowski:


Nah, when it comes to television viewing, and most other things, still a nation of haves and have nots.

But thanks for chiming in with your point about what coulda, shoulda but didn't happen...m

Wait, since when do you need digital cable to view HBO, scrambled or unscrambled? HBO is one of the staples available to analog cable subscribers (who, of course, must pay an extra fee to see it. But they *don't* need a digital cable box for it.)

MIchael H.:

That is a good point, Marianne.

It seems that CNN is thinking more about its bottom line and less about news.

I was a little shocked to also read a story about an author going to jail over saying something "insulting" to the Thai royal family, but CNN wouldn't publish what it was that was said (or at least give us a gist of what was said) out of fear that their reporters in Thailand would be arrested?

First of all, the law is rarely used in Thailand, something revealed by their own story. Secondly, it would seem that they would have to PROVE who wrote it ... and I didn't seem to feel that repeating what someone said in terms of saying it within a news scope rather than in a book would result in an arrest.

But hey, that's just me. Let me know when CNN gets back to reporting news ...

Marianne Paskowski:


Those who don't pay for HBO were able to get the signal unscrambled if they had digital cable, from what I read. If you're analogue and don't subscribe, then it wasn't an option.

Meanwhile, interesting how CNN's Blitzer never told viewers on CNN about their options. Sibling rivalry, didn't want viewers to migrate to the concert on HBO, even if they could get it.

Thanks for moving the story along....m,

Marianne Paskowski:

Michael H,

I don't know a thing about the Thai incident, but there are reasons for newsgathering organizations not to dwell on speculation.

Today the big news is Obama. Just wish his people didn't make those exclusive media deals. From what I know, it hasn't been done since Clinton, and certainly not on this scale.

Guess this stuff happens when you delegate. So the first mistake, and maybe a head will roll, but more important, I hope, a lesson learned...m

Andy S.:

"Wait, since when do you need digital cable to view HBO, scrambled or unscrambled?"

On my cable system, since about 2006. Comcast has moved pretty much all of its premium content to the digital-only tier; it's old news.

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Andy,
Thanks, that's how it is here on my Comcast system. Not only has the MSO, here, moved paid services to digital, but also MSNBC and all the religious networks.

I deliberately keep one analogue cable set here to see the differences, and they are there.



Yo, Blondie --

Is the magic unraveling even before Obama is sworn in? Tim Geithner got caught not paying taxes; don't tell me such a financial panjandrum "forgot." The heat on Bill Richardson suddenly became too much to ignore. And what about all the fun in Illinois?

Now we find out that our new president of the people, already overloaded with the people's campaign contributions left over from the presidential race, sells what's supposed to be the people's inauguration ceremony concerts to two of television's greediest giant corporations. Why not let any and all media cover the concerts for free? The artists aren't charging for their talent, and competition among media would keep the price of watching the concerts on TV low, or free.

How many more surprises do we have left before we find out that Obama is just another pol, genuflecting out to giant corporations and the people can can just suck wind? Did the Obama transition team innocently screw up this broadcast rights thing? Or is Obama out to prove, as a Republican national chairman candidate idiotically put it, that Obama really is the "Magic Negro"?

Cruisn not bruisin

Ruben M:

I think that the article could be missleading as it does not include the complete information.

The concert was transmitted live via NPR and later broadcasted unscrambled via HBO with several repeats through the day.

While people without pay tv or a radio could not see or hear it, my guess is that the number is very small and not something to make a fuss about it.

Marianne Paskowski:


I think this whole episode is very telling. I'm not sure what to make of it yet, however, I was disappointed.

We got the first look yesterday that his words don't jibe with his actions, delegated or not. And yes, Geitner, and Richardson, that I expect, but not this selling out to the media.


Joe Guerin:

Ms. Paskowski,

This Obama guy is finally showing some sense, recognizing how the marketplace rightly puts a hefty price tag on broadcast bonanza events like the inaugural concerts on the Mall. Why should viewers too cheap to pony up for cable (unscrambled signal or not, HBO is known as a paid service) get a free ride, while Obama misses out on some handy campaign cash? Looks like Obama finally learned the right lesson from Rod Blagojevich.

Andy S.:


One question for you regarding this story: To whom exactly did HBO pay the rights fee for this event? Who owns the rights? And while we're at it, how much are the artists being paid for their appearance?


Marianne Paskowski:

Thanks for jumping in, sure, like poor people without cable listen to NPR. Dream on.

Remember, this was a free concert for those on site.

So, why wasn't it free on TV? I'll tell you why, one of the ABC affiliates that serve my market, ran infomercials to make rather than spend money.

Need I say more?...m


Selling exclusive rights to networks is necessary. This whole thing is costing $150M, four times any of his predecessors' events.

In these tough economic times, that could have gone a long ways in many other places. Imagine how many digital converters could have been bought for the 2/17 transition for example. I'm shocked, shocked I tell you, to find we've elected a politician to the White House.

Jeff Mulligan:


President-elect Obama and his team have mastered the art of symbolism throughout the campaign and the transition--or so we've thought. Peddling "exclusive rights" to highly visible parts of one of the most signature moments in the nation's history is a terrible mistake, entirely out of character for the man, his image, and his mission.
It's literally "pay for play." I don't think that even Sarah Palin could have made such a mistake.


Marianne Paskowski:


Looks like the Obama team farmed out the media buy to a third party, a company I'm still checking out. The performers, however, did it pro bono.


Marianne Paskowski:

Of course Obama is a politician, forget that he disappointed many of his voters with this HBO deal.

But I'm not going to forget that, although I could have watched it, if I wanted to.

I was just thinking about all those eager, young poor people, who didn't have tha tchance to make a choice about viewing that concert.

That sticks in my craw....m

Marianne Paskowski:

You must be from Illinois, but remember, the campaign is over, he's your next president.

Thanks, I think....m

Marianne Paskowski:


I agree that Obama did not have to sell out to the exclusive media deals his team made for him.

It's so not inclusive and not what I voted for, hope he learns from what I view as a mistake..and a wrong message...m


Oh my my my. Are we seeing the first subtle souring of the Obama butt kissing fan club? Oh what a shock I do say.
Get used to it people, the Obama Corporation may be ready to serve tea and hot towels to keep vicious terrorists comfortable, but if you think they are going to put "principle" above PROFIT, you are all far nuttier than I thought.

Marianne Paskowski:

Good to hear all voices weigh in here, but to you, I say Clinton did it too.

I didn't write this about concerns of terrorism, but about what poor people could watch of this history making weekend, and now until Tuesday.

I wasn't being cynical, just saying it right out, m


Careful, lets not rush to judgement too quickly. True some real talent volunteered their time and efforts to perform, but did ABC, CBS, NBC volunteer their vast resources to cover and place all the equipment needed in a short amount of time to film the epic? I believe this came about very quickly and perhaps HBO was quick with a deal to at least cover the event and offer DVDs later. Get it on Net flicks later or something or get a copy from someone who recorded it.

Sometimes things just happen very quickly and it is the way it happens. I would think Obama was very busy with a lot of other important things and this is just entertainment, right?

Marianne Paskowski:

Sure Cliff,
People without personal recording devices will love those DVD's.

Marianne Paskowski:

Sure Cliff,
People without personal recording devices will love those DVD's.


Reading Multichannel's Satellite Dish blog, I came across a link to your discussion. Much better, and more on target with the reality of the situation. Good blog. Thanks for saying it like it is. We need more debates like this one.

Marianne Paskowski:

Thanks, it really bugged me when Wolf Blitzer kept reminding viewers of the concert's exclusivity on HBO, like wavy candy at a child and saying, but not for you.

Marianne Paskowski:

Thanks, it really bugged me when Wolf Blitzer kept reminding viewers of the concert's exclusivity on HBO, like wavy candy at a child and saying, but not for you.

Thurston Last:

Hey, that's just Time Warner being Time Warner, and Time Warner's not ran very well these days.

Read the news, especially Ms. Finke's blog.

Marianne Paskowski:


Are you talking about the layoffs? They are every where.Every company seems to be picking up a nickel off the floor.


Thurston Last:

It's not just the layoffs. It seems from the moment Time Warner sold a slight majority (51%) of their company to America Online, the company has been making terrible decisions. The sell-off of Warner Music, World Championship Wrestling, and Warner Book Group, the virtual shutdown of New Line Pictures and Warner Bros. Animation, the mismanagement of The WB, the live-action direction of Cartoon Network, the disaster that is The CW, the need to actually keep the one unit that's just bleeding money, AOL, and the fact that the company isn't worth what it was at the time the merger took place. Everybody involved in the initial merger is gone, but everybody involved with the decisions I mentioned is still in place at the company.

Jeff Bewkes is the model of mediocrity, and yet they keep on promoting him to the point that he's now Chairman/CEO/President of Time Warner. It's almost laughable the way Time Warner manages itself, but given the fact that it used to be one of the most trusted, most creator-friendly corporations on the planet, the laughter ends and has become a slaughter (you can't spell slaughter without laughter, you know). Plus, they try to ignore the glorious past they created in favor of new things.

Prior to the New Year's marathon, when was the last time you saw Looney Tunes in its original short form on American television?

They care more about the buck thank creating memorable products, and it just gotten to the point that it's just Time Warner being Time Warner.

Thurston Last:

Oh, and I should mention . . . Bewkes, the Chairman/CEO/President of Time Warner, HATES synergy between the individual units of the company. Google "Jeffrey Bewkes" and "synergy" to see his views on the subject and question why a guy that has those views would be in charge of a unit that has separate yet compatible companies in its possession.

Marianne Paskowski:

Who Thurston,
Other than all of the above about Bewkes, how do you really feel about him:)

Kidding of course, but the company is just too big. Most media giants lost something when they took on two much.

As you know, I hate media stocks. Even DIS that announced it was laying off 600 managers in its US theme park division.


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