Advertisers shy away from TV networks' 9/11 shows
Tue Jul 30, 7:55 PM ET
By Steve Gorman


LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - For America's television viewers, it will be a day of remembrance -- with little or no commercial interruption.

As the major networks plan extensive, daylong coverage of the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, advertisers are expected to keep a low profile that day to avoid being seen as cashing in on the tragedy.

Advertiser reluctance to hawk sodas, cars and shampoo in conjunction with images of last year's suicide hijackings is forcing broadcasters to seek "brought-to-you-by" sponsorship or other low-key ways of underwriting their 9/11-related programs, officials at network and media agencies said Tuesday.

"There are a large number of clients who are electing not to underwrite what the networks are planning to do," one source at a large New York-based media buying company told Reuters.

Some major advertisers have decided to sit out Sept. 11 altogether.

"We just felt that this year, it would be appropriate not to advertise on that day, just out of respect for what happened," said Dave DeCecco, a spokesman for Pepsi-Cola North America, the soft-drink company owned by PepsiCo Inc.

Likewise, Dell Computer Corp.has chosen to pull its consumer ads from networks that broadcast news programs related to Sept. 11, the Wall Street Journal reported.

PUBLIC SERVICE-STYLE MESSAGES

Others will opt for public service-style messages that pay tribute to the victims and heroes of 9/11, much the way Nextel Communications sponsored a highly rated CBS documentary about the World Trade Center attacks that aired in March. CBS, a unit of Viacom Inc. plans to repeat that special on Sept. 8.

"It's fair to say that all the networks are selling sponsorships, rather than traditional 30-second spots," one executive at a major network said.

"I'm not surprised about advertisers who are skittish about it, and they should be," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, director of broadcast research for Interpublic Group -owned Initiative Media, whose clients include Nextel, Home Depot Victoria's Secret and Bank of America

"The danger is it will be seen as taking advantage of what's likely to be highly viewed programming for blatant capitalistic gain," she said.

The major networks -- NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox -- aired four straight days of commercial-free, round-the-clock news after hijackers slammed jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon ( news - web sites) and a Pennsylvania field in attacks that left about 3,000 people dead or missing.

Coverage of the devastation in New York, where the Trade Center was reduced to rubble on live television, riveted the nation and world.

NETWORKS RETURN TO GROUND ZERO

For the first anniversary of the attacks, CBS, General Electric Co.'s NBC, and ABC, a unit of Walt Disney Co. all plan to devote much of day to special programming commemorating the disaster.

CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley has landed interviews with President George W. Bush ( news - web sites) and top White House officials recounting the events of 9/11 that will air as part of a three-hour prime-time block produced by "60 Minutes" and "60 Minutes II." The interviews with Bush will be conducted aboard Air Force One and in the Oval Office.

Meanwhile, NBC's prime-time lineup that night will feature a two-hour "Concert for America" tribute hosted by Tom Brokaw and produced in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. First lady Laura Bush plans to attend that event, which tapes in Washington on Sept. 9. The president reportedly may appear as well.

ABC, meanwhile, has slated a prime-time look back at Sept. 11, including a documentary reconstruction of the attacks and the government's reaction to them.

The Fox network, a unit of News Corp. Ltd., is planning a two-hour prime-time special, "The Day America Changed," hosted by Brit Hume.