Media placement will challenge buyers in coming months

Perhaps it is unseemly at this still-early date to delve into the notion of viewer numbers, so forgive us as we do. But as media outlets big and small comb over even the tiniest minutiae of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and the world braces for the U.S. military response, TV networks understand that coverage could have long-term consequences in terms of building viewer loyalty for news outlets.
Put simply: it is times like these that can make or break a news organization. Lest we forget, CNN went from also-ran status to one of the world's major news organizations riding around-the-clock coverage of the Gulf War in 1991.
Even though they're hesitant to address it so soon after the catastrophe, Canadian network executives acknowledge news coverage stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks is critical both in terms of building long-term viewing and in attracting all-important young viewers.

Perhaps it is unseemly at this still-early date to delve into the notion of viewer numbers, so forgive us as we do. But as media outlets big and small comb over even the tiniest minutiae of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and the world braces for the U.S. military response, TV networks understand that coverage could have long-term consequences in terms of building viewer loyalty for news outlets.

Put simply: it is times like these that can make or break a news organization. Lest we forget, CNN went from also-ran status to one of the world’s major news organizations riding around-the-clock coverage of the Gulf War in 1991.

Even though they’re hesitant to address it so soon after the catastrophe, Canadian network executives acknowledge news coverage stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks is critical both in terms of building long-term viewing and in attracting all-important young viewers.

‘There are only a few times in the period of a year where an event clearly captivates everyone in society. This is one of them,’ says Tony Burman, the CBC’s executive director of news, current affairs and Newsworld. ‘It is then that our audiences extend well beyond people who consider themselves regular CBC viewers.’

Burman adds that CBC’s coverage of the death and funeral of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau last year saw a residual increase in viewing that remained strong throughout the year.

Rick Lewchuk, SVP program planning and promotion at CTV, takes a similar tack. He says that both the main network news programs and CTV Newsnet will get a bounce in its numbers as events develop.

‘We’ve seen it through other times of crisis. People will continue to watch [Newsnet] for breaking news,’ he says. ‘What will also happen is there will probably be higher numbers for us on the main network [news]…more people will get into the habit of watching news more often.’

Many millions of dollars in ad revenue have been lost resulting from round-the-clock commercial-free coverage on TV. According to In side.com, analysts have estimated that U.S. networks lost $40 million to $100 million a day covering the attacks.

The effects of the terrorist attacks had immediate impact on virtually every corner of North America and the world. While fallout – from first-hand accounts to the effects on transportation and advertising – has been covered from nearly every angle by media outlets, the longer-term effects are only now coming into focus.

Additionally, the reflex of many major advertisers was to pull ads wherever possible as a show of respect for victims and for fear of associating their brands with the pictures of carnage that were pouring forth. Coca-Cola and Pepsi halted broadcast advertising including any new ads in the near term. Other U.S. marketers holding ads in the wake of the tragedy included Microsoft, General Electric and Campbell Soup. In Canada, Bell and Air Canada also pulled ads.

It is clear, however, that once events settle, advertising will once again find equilibrium in print and broadcast outlets. What is not so clear is just what media mix will take form.

Certainly the networks have been, and will continue, drawing significant viewers as events continue to unfold.

Now as the world prepares for U.S. retaliation, network news appears to be a logical avenue for advertising dollars. There will be millions tuned to the major networks and significant numbers tuning in to all-news stations.

‘I remember when the Gulf War was happening and seeing audience data from Newsworld and seeing huge spikes as the thing took off,’ says Michael Dougherty, VP associate media director at The Media Edge in Toronto.

More so, Dougherty says the numbers for Newsworld remained higher once the war was over.

It only makes sense that advertising dollars will follow.

Or does it?

While the numbers are promising, many media buyers, including Dougherty, are not convinced that news programming is the best place for their clients.

‘I suspect we might be wary of running in newscasts,’ says Hugh Dow, president of M2 Universal in Toronto, ‘because of the content of those newscasts.’

In addition, Dow says, there are concerns that a spot could actually be seen as tasteless or offensive if it inadvertently picks up on elements of carnage being reported on the news.

‘Obviously we are going to have to evaluate the situation, quite literally on a daily basis and take whatever action is appropriate, depending on the individual client says Dow. ‘It’s going to be very busy times for the media buying and selling industry in the weeks and months to come.’

Still, Dow believes with all the interest in world events there will be an overall increase in television viewing.

Mark Sherman, president and CEO of The Media Experts, also predicts such an increase.

‘My speculation is that television tuning overall will go up not necessarily because of a desire to consume news information but more for a desire to escape. You could have increases in all types of programming, not just in news,’ he says.

‘[People] will in short spurts want to watch news to get the information on what’s going on but moreover the long-term effect of the stress could force people to just zone into their TVs.’

Dow says that this could actually benefit the new wave of struggling digital channels, among others, in terms of getting a second look from advertisers. Sports and episodic programs are also safe bets that could see increased advertiser interest, he says.