Is BP Buying Off Media Coverage?

Is coverage of the gulf oil spill declining, especially from local TV? And if so, why?  And if so, is there a reason to follow the money which might logically  lead to the BP advertising juggernaut?

In the days and weeks immediately following the oil spill there was a gush of coverage on both network and local TV.  Regional and national reporters crisscrossed from Louisiana to Florida.  Today, 100 days since the disaster, the urgency except for  spill-impacted areas, has naturally diminished.  But is that due to an editorial decision or is it due to the huge buy of advertising time by BP?

This is my question… is there any relationship between BP’s advertising buy and the decision by stations to turn down the spotlight’s glare?  These are economic tough times in the ad world.  On local stations where the community’s automotive dealers were once counted on the purchase up to 30% of the local advertising space, and where nothing else has become a one-for-one replacement for the absence of such dealer ads, BP has obviously found a welcomed reception for its branded ad campaign about what it’s doing to repair the damage and sustain the environment.  Was there a quid pro quo?  Was there a condition, or a wink between the station and the media buyer that stipulated the news department scale back its oil spill coverage?  In exchange for a media buy was there a request, a demand for kinder editorial treatment?

I am not suggesting stations are choosing not to cover the spill but have they scaled back from two or three stories a night to a single story, often not even the lead story?  Is this coincident?  Or is the story fading on its own merit?  That is, except for efforts at sea to cap the well, there really isn’t much that seems substantively different from stories produced a week, two weeks or even three weeks ago.  Is this an editorial decision that with fewer new stories there is less to report, less reason to invest precious air time, or is there something more sinister at play?

We know that TV has limited commitment to many stories.  TV media hs been criticized for having the attention span of a small child.  And as a colleague has critically said about complicated stories, “TV does not handle complex carbohydrates well.”  And perhaps it is simply a case that audiences appear satiated on the spill story; perhaps minute by minute ratings provide evidence that many audiences have ‘tuned out’ from the story and therefore, with less interest comes decreased demand and fewer stories.

But is there something more?  I don’t know.  I haven’t access to such proprietary information on either side.  I am just wondering if any one has information to prove whether this is real, coincident, or unfounded.

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Author: Peter Shaplen Productions

More than four decades of experience as a journalist, producer, reporter, writer and professor of news, corporate production, crisis management.

2 thoughts on “Is BP Buying Off Media Coverage?”

  1. I expected TV coverage to decline once there was no longer a steady plume of oil spewing live on the net and in TV coverage…and once BP put the good ol’ Mississippi boy in as CEO once they’d ousted Hayward. (Assuming this is what happens) My big concern is that Americans have learned nothing from this. We can blame Hayward all we want and rejoice in his ouster but there were shed loads of Americans directly involved in this disaster. And then there is the citizenry who sat on the shores of the Gulf and spent more time watching American Idol and Survivor on their big screen TVs than they did writing to their Congressmen about making sure oversight was provided in this drilling. It is epidemic in this culture to avoid responsibility and part of that “sickness” is to now rush on to the next TV disaster and not drill, pun intended, down and look out our responsibility in this disaster so it doesn’t happen again. But I hold out no hope whatsoever, Americans have learned anything from this. It has just been another “blog and bitch” opportunity.

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