Tuned In

Barack Obama: The Series!

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In an effort to buck up the national mood and sell his economic plans, President Obama is considering a series of ten-minute addresses on TV, reports Slate’s John Dickerson. (The White House offered few details, but I would have to guess they’re talking about primetime.) A few thoughts: 

* Obama has gotten attention for using YouTube to deliver his weekly addresses, but this plan by contrast shows that there’s still an advantage to TV, albeit for different purposes. Particularly during the campaign, online video (and other online communications) proved a useful way of reaching the “opt-in” viewer: that is, the citizen committed or interested enough to actively seek out content online. TV, on the other hand, gets you the viewer who may be interested, or may be not, but who for whatever reason is not going to seek out your address on YouTube. That, of course, includes millions of Americans who may not be intensely interested in politics, but whose hearts and minds—and wallets—the President needs to reach to build confidence. Online, the viewer comes to you; on TV, you go to the viewer. 

* Ten minutes seems like a wise choice for length; at a full half-hour, I suspect a lot of viewers will tune out or flip. But it raises the question of how networks will schedule around it, and how much notice they will need to prepare for it. On the other hand, given time to prepare, it could make for some worthwhile experiments in network scheduling. (After all, it’s not written in the Bible that TV shows have to be multiples of 30 minutes, as NBC once demonstrated with its 40-minute supersized Friends, et al.) 

* One line the Administration is walking is making Obama’s national appearances frequent, but infrequent enough so that they have impact. Contrary to popular belief, Dickerson points out, FDR gave only 30 fireside chats in his Presidency. Another is being reassuring enough to restore public confidence, without being so reassuring that his plans lose their urgency. But that’s a dilemma regardless: at least by delivering your message directly, you have some chance—some—to have an influence outside the media dissection of your remarks. 

* Regardless, we shouldn’t expect the equivalent of the effect of FDR’s fireside chats, for the same reason we can’t expect a hit sitcom to have the ratings of I Love Lucy: there are too many other media options. Broadcast executives aren’t the only ones affected by media fragmentation.