Cable Goes to the Convention

Los Angeles-Scenes from the Democratic Convention: MTV: Music Television street-team members avoid rubber bullets in the melee that follows a free concert outside the Staples Center.

A pint-sized HBO Family kid journalist strolls past the Secret Service human shield at a Karenna Gore Schiff appearance at the House of Blues, while taller, more grizzled professionals were blocked out of the primo camera placement.

And Adelphia Communications Corp. vice president Bill Rosendahl schmoozes California delegates on the convention floor, filming terse, issue-focused interviews designed for the host state audience.

Cable did its targeted thing last week, bringing niche demographics into the political audience. While the broadcast networks did the broad-brush, primetime, cut-away-for-Survivor thing, cable networks were crafting coverage for African Americans, kids and "Generation Y."

MTV caught the L.A. flavor for the latter group, shooting dispatches cablecast during the daily Total Request Live. Reporters Jason Bellini, Julia Meijia, Erica Terry and Gideon Yago worked the convention area, talking with candidates and first-time potential voters alike.

The team copped interviews with former President Jimmy Carter and moshers in the "demonstration pit" outside during the Rage Against the Machine concert, which ended in violence.

"It was an incredibly intense crowd," Yago said in reference to the concert/riot at MTV's "Choose or Lose" event at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, Calif., during the DNC.

The network hosted 400 young people and convention delegates and a wealth of press at its Aug. 15 event, capped by the announcement by Gore Schiff that her candidate father has committed to a town-hall appearance with the MTV crowd Sept. 26.

Gore Schiff noted the importance of the MTV demographic. "It's the largest voting age block-10 million more than boomers," she said.

She pleaded with the MTV audience to "resist ironic detachment" and become politically involved. "If Medicare runs out, it will be on us," she said.

Gore Schiff also commended MTV executives for "what they're doing for the country."

Participants in the event noted the power of youth-voter organizing. The turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds peaked in 1992-the year MTV started Choose or Lose and persuaded candidate Bill Clinton to appear on the network.

MTV's John Norris also noted that George W. Bush has been extended the same invitation-a judgment call the partisan crowd booed.

Candidates and delegates were also confronted by reporting teams from Nickelodeon and HBO Family, the latter standing on chairs to properly position their cameras.

Local cable viewers had the advantage of watching the global coverage offered by the networks or tuning to local- origination outlets or California Channel for gavel-to-gavel coverage, plus localized coverage spearheaded by Adelphia Communications Corp.

Adelphia, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications Inc. and AT & T Broadband created a temporary interconnect to pipe the localized coverage throughout Greater Los Angeles, as well as to California Channel's audience.

On-air host Rosendahl mined his personal relationships-built from years of producing a weekly local show on politics-to attract state politicos to filmed panel discussions and to grab decision-makers at the convention.

Interviewees included state assemblymen Roderick Wright and Herb Wesson, county supervisors Yvonne Burke and Zev Yaroslovsky and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Rosendahl and Perry Parks, vice president, public and governmental affairs of the former MediaOne Group Inc. Los Angeles cluster (now AT & T Broadband), took turns hosting the local DNC coverage.

The venture also gave airtime to dissonant voices. Local cable viewers saw Pat Buchanan declare the Reform Party meeting in Long Beach, Calif., as "the last red-meat convention in America," along with speeches by Shadow Convention attendees the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Arianna Huffington. Electronic media generally ignored the latter meeting.

Cable also lent hardware help. AT & T Broadband provided end-to-end connectivity to the Democratic News service, which used the operator's fiber optics and satellite transponder for live carriage.

The party produced original programming, including interviews with delegates and congressional leaders, which were then beamed to their hometowns. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) both took advantage of the uplink, the company said, to send campaign messages home.

The Democrats also fed minority-targeted programming to Black Entertainment Television via AT & T Broadband's transponder. And AT & T Broadband provided its digital production truck which helped to produce and uplink news 12 hours per day during the convention.

Cable wasn't the only industry using the Democratic forum for self-promotion. AT & T Corp. was the target of a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times' special convention section. The Screen Actors Guild lambasted AT & T in the ad, reminding all delegates that its members are still on strike for better residuals from cable commercial work.

The ad-headlined, "AT & T: The Wrong Choice"-noted that AT & T is one of the largest corporate sponsors of the DNC, yet has refused to date to sign a contract with SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Actors make only $11 per day for unlimited use of a spot on as many cable systems as possible, according to the union. Despite the glamorous image of actors (reinforced, no doubt, by the round of glitzy convention parties), 80 percent of SAG members make less than $5,000 per year, according to the union.