Fox became the first broadcast network to turn down a request by President Barack Obama for time, opting to show its drama “Lie to Me” on Wednesday instead of the president’s prime-time news conference.
Fox will direct viewers interested in the news conference to and the Fox Business Network, which will both carry it. ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and CNBC are all carrying the 8 p.m. EDT event, on Obama’s 100th day in office.
This will be Obama’s third prime-time news conference as president, a schedule that has caused some private grumbling among network executives. Carrying a news conference costs the four broadcast networks an estimated $10 million-plus in lost advertising revenue.
Yet with an economy in distress, two wars and now a swine flu outbreak, the pressure on networks to agree to Obama’s request as a public service is enormous.
Executives at Fox, owned by News Corp., would not comment on the decision Monday. It’s not without precedent for the network; Fox didn’t carry a prime-time speech by President George W. Bush in November 2001 despite a request from the .
“I can’t imagine it was politically motivated,” said Shelly Palmer, industry analyst and host of “MediaBytes,” a daily show about technology and the media. “I’m assuming it was financially motivated.”
The news conference comes at the start of a ratings “sweeps” months, where viewership is watched closely to set local advertising rates. Not only will Fox keep its advertising for the hour, it will offer the only broadcast entertainment program, potentially giving a boost to the new series “Lie to Me,” about a crime-fighting expert who can spot liars. “American Idol” follows “Lie to Me” on the schedule.
The Fox broadcast network was the most likely to have made this decision. Unlike ABC, CBS and NBC, Fox does not have its own news division to analyze the event. Even though the broadcast network is in more homes, cable’s Fox News Channel traditionally gets more viewers for its coverage of these events than the Fox network.
An executive at one of the three other broadcasters, who asked for anonymity because the conversations were private, said that network’s executives had expressed concern to the White House about the frequency of prime-time news conferences and the financial sacrifice they were making in carrying the event. The executive said it was hoped the administration would show more flexibility in working with networks to find the best times to schedule the events.