Obamamercial: A flop with critics, ratings

When one program dominates its time slot by simulcasting on five different networks, the producers obviously intend on making it must-see TV.  Barack Obama’s infomercial fell far short.  Despite its multiple platforms, it could only garner 21.7% of the households in the US.  The debates drew far more:

The combined overall household rating for Senator Barack Obama’s Wednesday night infomercial, in the top 56 local television markets where Nielsen maintains electronic TV meters, was 21.7.

Obama’s simulcast is the first to be aired by a presidential candidate since Ross Perot ran a political telecast on the eve of Election Day in 1996.  That program was watched by 16.8% of all households nationwide. …

In comparison, the final debate between the two presidential candidates received a 38.3 household rating in the top 56 local TV markets.  The candidates’ first debate on September 26 received a 34.7 household rating in the top 55 markets; their second debate, on October 7, received a 42.0 household rating in those markets.

The Ross Perot comparison is interesting.  Perot made his famously policy-driven case, complete with pie charts, to 16.8% of the nation.  On Election Day, he won 8.6% of the popular vote.  Obama will win more than 22% of the popular vote, but one can take a lesson from this: the entire nation is not enthralled with The One.  As I predicted before the Obamamercial, only the true believers bothered to watch it.

And they needed Prozac by the time it ended.  The New York Post had infomercial experts rate the presentation, and they gave it a big thumbs down.  Apparently, it was Mourning in America:

Two leading infomercial stars agree: Barack Obama’s half-hour self-promotion last night was a flop.

“I don’t see enough smiling. Doom and gloom totally,” said Anthony Sullivan, one of the biggest names in infomercial history.

“I feel depressed right now,” added Sullivan, an Englishman famous for his infomercials touting the Swivel Sweeper and Smart Chopper. The only thing saving Obama, Sullivan said, was when the candidate appeared live at the end speaking at a rally in Florida. …

He and AJ Khubani, who has produced infomercials for 25 years, said Obama also fell short of offering solutions to the dire problems he laid out.

“I didn’t see a payoff. Classic infomercial is you show the before and you show the after. I didn’t see the music or the crashing waves of the Pacific,” Sullivan said.

Khubani told the Post that infomercials should spend more time on the solution and less on the problem.  In other words, don’t talk about belly flab for 25 minutes and then talk about the Tummy Stretcher for 5.  The Obamamercial gave viewers tons of gloom and doom, with people talking about the tough economy (from their own houses and driving their own cars) to such an extent that the solution — Obama — hardly seems appropriate to the task involved.

The ratings will be what depresses Team Obama, though.  Despite having a near-monopoly on broadcast television and no particularly compelling competition, only one-fifth of the nation bothered to watch.  That doesn’t exactly scream enthusiasm, and the crashing waves of a landslide may just be imaginary.

Update: A couple of points from the comments.  First, Perot scored only a little over 8% in 1996; I originally used his 1992 popular-vote percentage of 19%, which I’ve changed.  Second, several commenters have insisted that 21% is a good ratings share, which would be true of a show aired on one broadcast network — not five. It’s also true of a competition with dozens of entrants, not of an essentially two-horse race.

Like I said, the only people who would be inclined to watch a 30-minute infomercial on Obama would be the Obamanauts, and a 21% rating bears that out.  Almost 80% of television viewers took a pass on Obama, even for 30 minutes.  Those are not good numbers, especially for prime time.