Advertisers Weigh 9/11 Options

It's decision time for advertisers--how to deal with the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Broadcasting and cable networks are offering a variety of serious 9/ll programs. Some marketers will use them as an opportunity to address important social messages or support traditional news programming. Others will sit on the sidelines--given the gruesome nature of the tragedy.

CBS has discovered that most advertisers would rather avoid its programming. Its documentary "9/11"--which has run a number of times with ads in the past--may provide the most graphic real video of the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Center. The program was filmed by two French filmmakers at the scene.

Previously, CBS ran limited commercials in "9/11." Nextel was a presenting sponsor in an earlier airing of the show, which is narrated by Robert DeNiro.

Because the show has rough language, TV pressure groups have taken it to task, wanting "9/11" to air after 10 p.m. Other CBS stations now want to delay the broadcast. Sinclair Broadcasting said Friday it would delay the show for its KGAN Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and WGME Portland, Me. stations. Sinclair is concerned that due to the language, it could be subject to major fines from the FCC.



These worries have prompted CBS' decision to run "9/11" commercial-free. One media executive estimates that the network's decision may mean a loss of an estimated $1 million in ad dollars.

But this is only one approach for networks. Other programmers--those specializing in news and documentaries--are offering advertisers either limited commercial interruption programming or programming with regular commercial breaks.

One media agency executive says 9/11 programming isn't for many clients: "Many cable networks have pitched us--A&E, Discovery, Nat Geo. We have decided not to buy at this time."

With marketers sitting on the sidelines, it puts added pressure on prime-time pricing--to spiral down. News programming on the broadcast networks is hovering around $50,000 for a 30-second spot, according to one media agency insider. This rate is lower than the average regular-season 30-second prime-time spot, which can run from $100,000 to $120,000 at most networks.

In fairness, many programs that run in early September are considered third-quarter TV money by advertisers--typically some of the lowest-priced ad inventory on the network schedule.

However, that doesn't mean these shows will go wanting for advertisers. "These shows can get your typical news programming advertisers," says Rich Goldfarb, senior vice president of media sales for National Geographic Channel. Typically, that means corporate messaging, financial services and pharmaceuticals.

One media buying executive disagrees. "This is not your normal news content," says Ira Berger, director of national broadcast for The Richard Group, Dallas. "It's still fresh to viewers, and it happened on American soil." For that reason, Berger believes many mainstream network advertisers--including many typical news advertisers--will shy away from 9/11 programming.

"It's like anything. From an emotional nature, some won't want to be associated with it, some will embrace it," adds Goldfarb. Last year, financial-service company Ameriquest was the major sponsor of Nat Geo's "Inside 9/11" documentary, its highest-rated show ever.

Over the last several weeks, Nat Geo has been running a series of 9/11 programming: "Inside 9/11," "Triple Cross: Bin Laden Spy in America," "The Hunt for Zarqawi" and "Osama's Escape."

Upcoming cable news programming includes an all-day tribute to the victims of 9/11 on CNN. In addition, CNN's on-demand broadband video service--will be offered free on Sept. 11, replaying CNN's entire coverage from that day. A CNN spokesman says the net will carry normal commercial loads for advertisers throughout the day.

Bigger broadcast shows are on the way.

NBC is airing a variety of news programming from Sept. 9 to Sept. 11 under the umbrella title "9/11: Five Years Later" on all its media platforms: NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, NBC radio, NBC stations. Special live coverage from Ground Zero will run on "The Today Show," among other programs. The network says it will run the amount of advertising regularly associated with news programming.

ABC is doing the same: It will offer "9/11/06: Where Things Stand" on Sept. 11 on most of its media platforms. After the day's events, ABC will offer the conclusion of the ABC miniseries "The Path to 9/11."

While many 9/11 shows won't be grabbing big ad dollars, Nat Geo's Goldfarb says many programs, such as his network's "Inside 9/11," are compelling enough to draw high ratings and viewership.

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