What Happened to My Election Coverage?
The nasty comments on social media and Letters to the Editor in the newspapers have stopped, but a lack of municipal election coverage by local TV stations in Edmonton hasn't been explained. Until now.
Like many other changes we notice in traditional media these days, the usual suspects can be blamed - declining viewership numbers, a thirst for profits by huge media corporations and doing more with less.
The reasons may be valid, but like thousands of Albertans last week, I just wanted my election coverage and was miffed when I got The Big Bang Theory instead.
The Election That Wasn't Covered
A week ago Monday night I settled back into the living room couch for what I thought would be a night of watching municipal election coverage on TV. I had CTV Edmonton on and was ready for a few hours of election results and analysis. Or so I thought.
I flipped over to Global Edmonton and then CBC Edmonton only to find no election coverage. Glad we have CTV I thought. Why no other local coverage?
Minutes after getting some of the first election results on CTV, anchor Daryl McIntyre basically said that was it for their coverage and to rejoin the station for more on the local news at 11:30.
What? That’s it? They’re done?
My wife was shocked too. “I got a ton of things done before 8:00, so I could watch the results. This is ridiculous.”
A few minutes after 9pm, I got a text from a friend asking the question “Can someone please tell me why no media is covering the election???”
I guess I should have checked the TV listings, but after watching wall-to-wall election coverage on TV for many years, I assumed we would get the same last Monday night. A quick check of social media showed we weren’t the only ones confused and upset. In fact, I don’t want to repeat what some people were saying about the lack of news coverage.
The Bottom Line is Always the Bottom Line
Here’s why it happened. The answer is pretty simple – money.
There’s a hardy, but small group of people who watch municipal election results. In fact, municipal elections get lower TV ratings than provincial and federal elections.
The big TV networks know they won’t get close to the same number of people watching election results as they would get for The Big Bang Theory or The Simpsons, programs that normally air on Monday nights on CTV and Global respectively. Advertisers know it too. They paid big bucks for ads to run on the hit comedies.
Here’s how the conversation would go between a TV sales rep and an advertiser who bought ads on one of those TV shows:
TV salesperson: “Hey, we have municipal elections here on October 16 and we would like to do election coverage throughout the night, so that means your show will be pre-empted. Your spots would still run. Would that be ok”?
Advertiser: “No it wouldn’t”.
TV salesperson: “But your commercials would run at the same time; just to a different audience”.
Advertiser: “A smaller audience. So since we’ve already paid for commercials to a larger audience and we’ll get much smaller numbers, can you give us some money back, or give us some free spots”?
TV salesperson: “Ahhhhh….well….ummm…let me get back to you”.
Profits Not Profile
The bottom line is always the bottom line in media these days. Simply put, it would have cost TV stations money to provide election coverage. Not only would they would have upset advertisers and lost advertising dollars, doing three hours of live election coverage isn’t cheap and takes a lot of effort.
The decision was pretty easy from a financial standpoint; really a no brainer.
As far as the public broadcaster, CBC increasingly works like a private broadcaster and also needs to watch the bottom line. Budgets have been drastically cut over the years and it no longer can afford to cover everything it wants either.
This brings up the question of why we had municipal election results in the past, but not this time around. I’m not sure what the TV networks did in terms of coverage in the last municipal election, but previously there was extensive coverage on election night on all stations.
Those were different times though. Huge media companies, Bell Media and Shaw, own CTV Edmonton and Global Edmonton. Many years ago when CTV Edmonton was CFRN it was owned by Dick Rice and Global Edmonton, then ITV, was owned by Charles Allard. Both men were a big part of the community and understood there were times they needed to lose a few dollars to support the community. Covering elections and big local events was just something they expected to do because they were there to serve the community. The better they served the community, the easier it would be for their salespeople to sell airtime and it worked really well.
Those days are gone. Big national media companies run out Toronto don’t care much about municipal elections in Alberta, especially if they cost them money. They care about delivering profits to their shareholders. That’s business.
Just Another Brick in the Wall
TV stations, knowing not having live coverage didn’t look good, asked viewers to follow results on their website. I always find it amusing when a radio or TV newsperson asks their audience to go to their website to get information. Isn’t that why people listen to news on the radio, or watch it on TV?
I also found it hypocritical for television personalities to urge people to “get out and vote” earlier in the day and then Edmonton’s three local TV stations, only did a total of one hour of live coverage. If the election is important enough for people to vote, isn’t it important enough to cover?
The reality though is it isn’t. Voter turnout was only 31% in Edmonton. It’s hard to get advertisers excited with a number like that. Perhaps if twice as many people voted there would have been more coverage?
One thing people shouldn’t do is blame the talent. News anchors, reporters, and technical people behind the scenes want to cover big local events like elections. It’s what they do, they understand the role they play in bringing breaking news to their audience and they want to be on the job when news breaks.
It’s too bad that financial realities and corporate ownership didn’t give them a chance a week ago Monday and many of their viewers were the big losers.
It’s just another brick in the wall of the move from traditional media to the internet to get news when it matters.