CBS News has built a special inauguration Web site to show its coverage on Jan. 20. CNN.com will have four live streams and will allow Facebook users to connect through its site. ABC is offering online archived speeches of past presidents. Fox News and MSNBC Web sites will both stream the inauguration live online.
"There are a lot of people who are going to be captivated by the entire day, and a lot of them are not going to be able to have a television set in the office, or have access to a television," said Sean McManus, CBS News president. The online coverage "has a much higher priority than it has in the past."
McManus has experience with the online audience of people who are supposed to be working; he's also president of CBS Sports, which streams the opening days of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
The Facebook deal is part of how CNN is experimenting to find the right way to get viewers involved with the event, much like the debate it co-sponsored during primary season with YouTube, said David Bohrman, CNN senior vice president and Washington bureau chief. He senses that a lot of people on Jan. 20 will want to communicate with friends.
"People are just trying to figure out the blend right now," Bohrman said. "Everyone knows that there's something there, and this is an interesting step in the evolution. If you look at this moment in eight or 10 years it will be interesting to see what panned out and what went nowhere."
None of this means the networks are shortchanging their television plans. Like Election Night, a presidential inauguration is an event that has been in the planning for a long time and brings out the "A" team. It's even more so now, as Obama's installation as president caps a campaign that drew extraordinary interest from viewers.
"For a news division, it is the gift that keeps on giving," McManus said.
CBS' daytime coverage on Inauguration Day stretches from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The network had originally planned to end it earlier, but its affiliates said they'd prefer more from Washington than the usual daytime talk shows, he said.
Besides the daytime ceremonies anchored by Charles Gibson, ABC will devote its entire prime-time lineup for the first time to the inauguration. For two hours, ABC will be on site at the "Neighborhood Inaugural Ball," covering musical performances and the new president and first lady's first dance of the night. At 10 p.m. EST, ABC will track the other inaugural balls and report on the day's special significance for black Americans.
Brian Williams will anchor the daytime coverage for NBC and a live, one-hour special at 10 p.m. that visits several inaugural balls. CBS' Katie Couric will anchor a 9 p.m. EST special on Obama's journey to the White House, then do a live Webcast reviewing the day's events on CBSNews.com and CNET.com.
The networks are preparing for an inauguration event that may be larger than anything they've seen before, CNN's Bohrman said.
"I don't think any of us realized how big this inaugural was going to be," he said.
Coverage of the event actually begins three days earlier, when CNN's Wolf Blitzer follows Obama's Saturday train ride from Pennsylvania to Washington. Blitzer and Anderson Cooper will be CNN's lead personalities for the inauguration.
On Fox News Channel, the inauguration will be the first big political event in years not anchored by Brit Hume, who has taken on a part-time role. Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith will be the main anchors, with Hume replacement Bret Baier getting both morning and evening duty.
Following its template from big political events last year, MSNBC will originate from an outdoor location on the National Mall, with Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and Eugene Robinson. CNBC airs an all-day "CNBC Reports: President Obama & Your Money."
Jim Lehrer anchors PBS' inaugural coverage, with columnists David Brooks and Mark Shields among his panelists. PBS' "NewsHour" also has an extensive Web site with forums where voters can pose questions.
For those who want a realistic sense of being there, C-SPAN's four days of coverage marks major events with no narration.
The event has attracted some extraordinary TV attention, with networks like Nickelodeon, QVC, BET and TV One planning events. The night before the inauguration, The Disney Channel will air a concert honoring military families.
By DAVID BAUDER