News Networks Forgo Ads on 9/11

Fox News Channel last Thursday became the first national cable network to announce that it will forgo all advertising during its extensive Sept. 11 coverage commemorating the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C., and New York.

The decision will cost the 24-hour news channel close to $1 million in ad revenues. But Fox News senior vice president of advertising sales Paul Rittenberg said the network felt it was the right thing to do, given the anniversary of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

The Fox News call came as several advertisers last week announced they would withhold television ads that day. The Wall Street Journal
reported last week that Pepsi and Dell Computer Corp. will not advertise on any Sept. 11-related television shows or coverage.

Rittenberg said Fox News's decision was made irrespective of potential advertiser withdrawals.

"We talked about whether selling sponsorships was the right thing to do, and ultimately we decided that it wasn't," Rittenberg said. "I don't know how you sell it."

He also believed other networks could follow suit, although competing 24-hour cable news networks are still contemplating whether to air a limited commercial schedule or were in the process of finding sponsors to underwrite daylong programming.


A CNBC spokeswoman said the network will most likely offer a "very light" commercial load, with ads that are "commemorative in nature" running throughout the day. She would not disclose any specific companies.

Sources close to the situation said the bulk of ads will most likely come from financial companies paying tribute to employees lost in the World Trade Center attacks.

MSNBC is still determining its plans for the day, although a spokeswoman said the network is looking for underwriters that would allow for limited breaks during its coverage.

CNN executive vice president of sales and marketing Greg D'Alba said it is in negotiations with several "New York-based financial companies" about running appropriate messages that would play throughout the network's extensive Sept. 11 coverage.

The companies approached CNN about the opportunity, he added. He said the news network's decision not to go commercial-free is not financially based.

"It not a financial issue; it's about connecting the right messages with the right content," D'Alba said.

CNN last week said it would present a 12-hour block of news coverage commemorating the Sept. 11 attacks. America Remembers, to begin at 6 a.m., will include more than 30 in-depth special reports and live reports throughout the country, said the network.

Lou Dobbs Moneyline, Connie Chung Tonight
and Larry King Live
will also provide special Sept. 11 anniversary coverage.

On the local-news front, Time Warner Cable of New York City's New York 1 News will go commercial-free for nearly two days during its extensive Sept. 11 coverage. Beginning Sept. 10, the network will air its wall-to-wall coverage on the WTC attack sans ads, it said. NY1's reports will fall under the moniker 9/11: Reflect, Remember, Rebuild.


Entertainment-network programming plans are also beginning to crystallize. Trio will air a six-hour, commercial-free primetime block of Sept. 11-related programming.

At 9 p.m., the network will debut an 30-minute episode from its upcoming original storytelling series The Moth
, sharing stories from NYC firefighter Keith Young and New York based comedienne Reno, Trio president Lauren Zalaznick said.

Immediately following the special, Trio will air a 90-minute documentary focusing on the making of the song and music video, titled We Are Family, which benefitted the victims of the terrorist attacks.

"We felt it would be distasteful to insert commercials in this particular pod of programming," Zalaznick said. "I think our decision to run commercial-free is not a trend-following thing, but a degree of propriety that is appropriate and essential."

For its part, Sundance Channel will air 9 Views: 9/11, a program of nine short films that reflect upon the events and emotions of last September.

On Sept. 10, ESPN will air a documentary focusing on the New York Fire Department's football team. Blood Brothers
will chronicle the lives of the team's players after the attacks, during which 22 team members were lost.


Five days earlier, the network will involve itself in a major New York City extravaganza to start the National Football League's Sept. 5 regular season, which will include recognition and support of New York's Sept. 11 memorial events.

ESPN — which will televise the league's opening San Francisco 49ers-New York Giants game in nearby East Rutherford, N.J., that evening — will provide frequent live shots from a satellite set in New York's Times Square during NFL Countdown, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., NFL director of corporate communications Brian McCarthy said.

MTV: Music Television will also televise some portions of its 90-minute TRL
show from the league's stage in Times Square, while VH1 will televise a live performance from rock group Bon Jovi from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

VH1 will re-air the performance in primetime on Sept. 7, he added.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.