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Event Television in High Demand

8/29/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

What an August it's been for event television. First the Beijing Games, dubbed the first high-definition Olympics, and now the Democratic convention.

NBC Universal — and cable and satellite affiliates — did a masterful job with the Olympics, with stunning pictures and even a standalone HD channel for soccer that showed the matches without commercials.

Now comes the first (for me at least) high-definition political convention.

I watched Barack Obama's speech and the other happenings from that football stadium in Denver on CNN HD, the only all-news HD channel on my Time Warner Cable lineup.

The bottom of the screen contained generally useful information, showing how on-screen tickers have evolved. During Al Gore's speech on Thursday, CNN reminded us Gore endorsed Obama after the primaries and that he backed Howard Dean in 2004. Who remembered?

The early primetime musical interludes made it feel a little like watching Woodstock. First Stevie Wonder, then Michael McDonald. The crowds were becoming a challenge — “they will have more than 85,000, perhaps more than 90,000 people in this stadium by the time Barack Obama speaks,” John King reported. The fire marshal and city police were trying to find room for the people, with reports that the Obama campaign gave out maybe 20,000 more tickets than they were supposed to. We just needed Arlo Guthrie to declare “the New York State Thruway is closed, man!”

Obama didn't disappoint, and the CNN experts gushed afterward. David Gergen called it “less a speech than a symphony” and hailed it as a masterpiece. He even said Obama looks bigger now, like he's “growing into the job of being president.”

Maybe he just looked bigger in HD?

And, as we do every four years (if not sooner), let us give thanks again to the cable industry for C-SPAN. The on-demand videos it provided make it possible to sort through the speeches I missed and to compare the just-watched Obama acceptance speech with his stirring address at the 2004 Democrats' convention.

“Thank heaven for C-SPAN!” was The New York Times Web site's live-blogged shout out before Obama's speech started. The bloggers were watching the past speeches shown at Invesco Stadium thanks to you know who. “C-SPAN is showing the entire program as it unfolds, unlike some other channels, which are preoccupied with their own talking heads.”

The Times even credited C-SPAN's “beautiful camera … especially those aerial views that show the rocking, neon-lit stadium against the Rockies and the flaming night sky.”

C-SPAN happily forwarded around a photo of Obama watching Hillary Clinton's speech Tuesday night on the network.

DNC coverage was even a primetime hit, at least by cable standards. Vice presidential nominee Joe Biden's speech Wednesday night drew an average 5.38 million voters in the 10 p.m. (ET) hour to CNN, which edged out NBC in the period.

Can the Republicans put on an even better show in Minnesota? We'll be watching, in HD.

September