LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An NBC News plan to exclusively produce, televise and profit from a news conference announcing Golden Globe winners drew fire from media experts who said on Thursday it further blurred a fuzzy line between TV journalism and entertainment.
“It’s an entertainment enterprise under the guise of news,” said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Florida-based Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for professional journalists. “Normally the people who host the news conference don’t get to profit from the commercials.”
The unusual Golden Globe Awards news conference, which will take place on Sunday, was arranged hastily this week after organizers scrapped the traditional ceremony honoring film and TV performers because of the threat of picket lines by screenwriters on strike against major Hollywood studios.
Instead of a three-hour-plus gala consisting of movie stars walking a red carpet and accepting awards on stage, this year’s event is reduced to an hourlong announcement of winners by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, sponsor of the awards.
No stars are expected to attend, and much of the live broadcast may be filled with video clips of nominees and winners, according to industry watchers and news reports.
NBC has yet to reveal the exact format of the telecast except to say it will be preceded by a taped two-hour “Dateline NBC” special on the Golden Globes hosted by Matt Lauer of NBC’s weekday morning show “Today.”
Packaging a televised “press conference” — as the show was described by the HFPA — with a “Dateline” special allows NBC to retain some semblance of an awards event that in recent years has generated $15 million to $20 million in advertising revenue for the General Electric Co-owned network.
The network’s entertainment division normally pays about $6 million to the HFPA for rights to the show. Since the event is now being produced by NBC News, the sponsors agreed to forgo that licensing fee. But NBC will still sell ad time for the news conference and “Dateline,” the network has said.
The arrangement drew criticism from journalism scholars and other experts, who called the “press conference” label bogus.
“This pushes the envelope so far that it’s no longer an envelope,” said Marty Kaplan, media professor at the University of Southern California. “The only thing that enables it to be called a press conference is the ability of NBC spokespeople not to smirk.”
NBC News spokeswoman Allison Gollust defended the network, saying it covered Golden Globe nominations the same way in past years when nominees were announced on the “Today” show.
“It’s a press announcement of the winners of the Golden Globes, and we will cover it, just like hundreds of other journalists that will be in the room,” she said. “The only difference is we’ll be carrying it live, and they’re going to show it after us.”
Independent network news analyst Andrew Tyndall said the notion of restricting access to a news event for the purpose of profiting from it “is crossing the line.”
“A press conference is when newsworthy announcements are made available to be used by the news media as a whole, and they’re often followed by questions and answers, and they’re never paused for commercial interruptions,” he said.
NBC already is bracing for lower ratings compared with last year when the show drew about 20 million U.S. viewers. NBC has been offering cash back to some advertisers, sources said.
Editing by Bob Tourtelllotte and Peter Cooney