- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

Is it the world’s moment?

Coverage of the inauguration Tuesday - and the potential global audience - has sparked predictions the singular American event could best the Super Bowl, which drew 90 million viewers last year.

When President-elect Barack Obama steps forward on the dais to take the oath of office, the Voice of America alone will broadcast the event live in 45 languages, from 200 journalists, to a potential audience of 134 million.

“The eyes of the world will be on Washington,” said Danforth W. Austin, the federal agency’s director.

Indeed, it will be all-Obama, all the time for a spell.

C-SPAN will offer 96 hours of essentially nonstop coverage, beginning with Mr. Obama’s train ride from Philadelphia to Washington and ending with 10 inaugural balls early Wednesday morning. The British Broadcasting Corp., France’s TV Monde and Al Jazeera are among many international news agencies who also will be weighing in.

Typical of the cable news channels, CNN’s inauguration coverage begins at 5 a.m. and will end sometime after 2 a.m., with 36 correspondents examining “the magnitude of the moment,” said CNN/U.S. President Jonathan Klein.

“It is an extraordinary moment,” agreed CNN anchorman John King.

“The inauguration of the first African-American president has increased the thirst for information around the world. Our job will still be to ask questions, look for new wrinkles. But we also want to let viewers soak it all in. A lot of smart people will be talking about the events, but the important moments for viewers may happen when we are all quiet,” Mr. King said.

Even sports-centric Americans agree that the ultimate civic event is bigger than the gridiron. A Fox News poll released Thursday found that 53 percent of the respondents said Mr. Obama’s inauguration was more important than the Super Bowl, with 40 percent citing the latter.

“Inauguration expected to be bigger than the Super Bowl,” proclaimed the Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper.

IKEA, Pepsi and other companies are launching major new marketing campaigns, which capitalize on the familiar Obama brand mantras of “change” and “yes, we can” - during the inauguration, not the Super Bowl.

The inauguration will permeate some unlikely sites. In a canny marketing arrangement, MSNBC will simulcast its coverage in 21 major movie theaters across the country, along with 650 Starbucks coffee shops.

Then there is on-demand, all-Obama programming on Comcast cable through Jan. 22 - similar to the Obama Channel, launched by a satellite TV provider during the presidential election.

The phenomenon does not sit well with some critics.

“One wonders if the Rod Blagojevich wiretap tapes will be included,” noted P.J. Gladnick of Newsbusters, a conservative watchdog Web site. “But what to do after the inauguration? Don’t worry, Obama fans. There is another adulatory Obama channel already operating called MSNBC.”

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