CNN’s Presidential Debate Rules Irk Other TV Networks

(Bloomberg) -- CNN, which is hosting the first presidential debate on Thursday, has put in place rules that other news outlets say are unusual and restrictive.

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The division of Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. is providing a live feed of the debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump to other networks, and those outlets must run it in full screen, with the CNN logo visible, according to terms the network distributed. Other channels aren’t allowed to cut away from the debate, or air analysis during commercial breaks.

The rival networks must refer to the event as the “CNN Presidential Debate.” All promotions, advertisements and TV listings must refer to it as the “CNN Presidential Debate Simulcast.”

A spokesperson for CNN declined to comment.

This debate is different in that it’s being held by CNN and not through the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonprofit that normally sponsors them and has its own rules.

The White House Correspondents’ Association wrote to CNN on Tuesday requesting that the network allow their representatives to sit in the studio during the debate, a request the network denied, according to a person familiar with the letter and response. CNN cited security and space concerns.

The network is allowing a limited number of still photographers in the debate room. Some 800 others will be watching a feed in a building across the street from the main studio.

The concern among the other networks is that something could happen in the debate room that only CNN journalists would witness. Unlike past contests, this debate doesn’t have a live audience and microphones of the other candidate will be muted when one is speaking. That could mean rival journalists miss gestures and asides during CNN’s coverage, or something more serious like a medical emergency involving one of the candidates.

CNN, which is hosting the debate in Atlanta, could use a boost. Its primetime audience is down about 1.8% to an average of 596,000 viewers a night this season, trailing cable-news rivals Fox News and MSNBC.

--With assistance from Hani Shawwa.

(Updates with ratings in the last paragraph.)

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