Magazine article Variety

Networks Eager to Stoke Political Fires

Magazine article Variety

Networks Eager to Stoke Political Fires

Article excerpt

Stephen colbert has had some fun over CNN's plans to stream a feed of the Oct. 13 presidential debate using virtual-reality technology, but for the network - and the cable news business in general - it's serious business.

Not only is this the first political event to get such you-are-there treatment, it comes as news networks hope to retain unprecedented interest in the 2016 presidential campaign. The record 22.9 million who watched CNN's coverage of the GOP debate from the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Sept. 16, and the 24 million who watched Fox News' coverage of the Republican debate from Cleveland on Aug. 6 are numbers that would have topped all broadcast primetime shows in premiere week, including football.

Can they last?

The answer has big implications for the news nets, which have sought higher ad rates for these live events, and for the political parties, which will be trumpeting the numbers to their own advantage.

CNN execs won't predict the size of the audience for the Oct. 13 event, but they don't believe the debate - the Democrats' first this cycle - will approach the numbers of the first two GOP gatherings, what with no Donald TVump and a smaller field of candidates. "They were a huge anomaly in what is an unusual political cycle," says CNN's Andrew Morse.

That isn't to say there won't be interest. The Oct. 13 event will be the first time Hillary Clinton will engage with her opponents, chief among them Bernie Sanders.

Comparisons inevitably will be made to the 2008 cycle. …

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