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The high cost of coverage

It was a horrible week for America and a costly one for the TV business, which devoted 'round-the-clock commercial-free coverage of the terrorist attacks from the outset on Tuesday morning. At deadline, the networks expected to continue such coverage through Friday, when President Bush was scheduled to visit New York.

Analysts and network sources estimate conservatively that the industry lost $50 million to $75 million a day in advertising, or between $200 million and $300 million for the first four days of coverage. "Order of magnitude, it's in that range," said one network source.

In addition to preempted network programs, Major League Baseball canceled games for six days, deciding to resume play today. The National Football League canceled all games scheduled for the second week of the season. The football league resumes play Sunday but, at deadline, had not decided whether to reschedule those games or play a 15-week season this year.

Movie companies delayed the opening of several theatrical films dealing with terrorist themes, thus diluting one of TV's more lucrative ad categories. Warner Bros. plans to delay the opening of Collateral Damage, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, which had been set to open Oct. 5.

Disney is delaying the premiere of Big Trouble, a movie scheduled for release on Sept. 21.

Ad agency executives were huddling with their clients last week to devise strategies for advertising in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack on the U.S. in history. "We're talking to clients now about how they want to precede," said one source at a major agency.

"It's too early to give you any definitive answers," the source continued. "But it's all going to be on a case-by-case basis, and individual advertisers will decide how they want to handle it."