NEW YORK (AP) — ABC, CBS and NBC decided against covering President Barack Obama's speech on immigration live on Thursday, although the Spanish-language Univision network is delaying its telecast of the Latin Grammy Awards to show the address.
The news networks CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC all planned to air Obama live.
Obama is planning to speak at 8 p.m. EST to announce that he is ordering federal action on immigration, angering Republican leaders in Congress.
The major broadcast networks generally carry presidential speeches on matters of national security and other important issues. But there can be a reluctance in executive suites if an anticipated address is seen as heavily political in nature, as well as a fear that viewers interested in entertainment options will flee.
It's not clear what the reasoning here. CBS News, through a spokeswoman, said it declined to comment on editorial decisions. ABC and NBC News also said they would not comment.
While the president is speaking, CBS will air "The Big Bang Theory," television's top-rated comedy. ABC will show an episode of "Grey's Anatomy," while NBC promises a sand-pile challenge on "The Biggest Loser" in that time slot.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the networks' decision was disappointing.
But he said the "time slot guarantees us a sizable portion of the growing Spanish language audience at Univision and Telemundo, a decent cable news audience, and it's the optimal time to capture the attention of Americans on their smartphones and tablets, which, as the TV execs will tell you, is how a significant percentage of Americans get their news these days."
A former news division president once responsible for making those decisions said that while he did not know the reasons behind the lack of coverage in this instance, he has concerns about the signal being sent.
"I think it is of real concern to the country if we come to a place where our major broadcast outlets are not fully covering the news," said David Westin, ABC News president from 1997 to 2010. "I'm not sure we're there yet, but I worry that we may be headed in that direction."
The networks did offer live coverage when President George W. Bush spoke in prime-time about immigration reform in May 2006. The Nielsen company said 41.6 million people watched Bush that night, virtually identical to the audience he received for his State of the Union address a few months earlier.
Obama's State of the Union was seen by 33.3 million people this past January, the smallest total of his presidency, Nielsen said.
Fox broadcasting, which doesn't have its own news division but occasionally simulcasts Fox News Channel coverage on the network for big events, did not plan to do so for Obama's speech.
The Latin Grammys were to start at 8 p.m. and air live on Univision. The network said Thursday it would carry Obama live, with the Grammys delaying its start until after the president is through. Last year's Latin Grammy telecast was seen by 4.6 million viewers.