- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Television networks lost about $500 million last week when they stopped airing commercials and shifted to round-the-clock coverage of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, analysts say.

Most networks began airing advertisements again Saturday. They could recoup the lost ad revenue if viewers stay hunkered in front of their sets this fall, analysts say.

"It's very uncertain. We have never seen an event of this magnitude since before television became a major force in the household," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, an analyst for New York advertising agency Initiative Media.

Brill Media Holdings LP, a New York research and publishing group, estimates the television outlets that covered the assaults including the four major broadcast networks, their affiliates and the cable news networks lost about $500 million in ad revenue last week. Broadcasters, which generate about $35 million in ad revenue a day, were hardest hit, Brill said.

All television networks were dealing with a sluggish ad market before the attacks, as advertisers nervous about the slowing economy cut their ad budgets.

"There is more uncertainty now than there was before [the attacks]. And when you have a lot of uncertainty, advertisers tend to hold their budgets pretty close to their vests," said Joe Mandese, editor of Media Buyer's Daily, a Brill Media newsletter.

Media companies suffered when the markets reopened this week after a four-day shutdown. Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC, took a big hit. Shares were trading for $19.25 apiece when trading closed Monday, an 18.4 percent drop. The stock price dropped to $18.40 when trading closed yesterday.

The four major commercial broadcasters ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox had each logged 90 hours of nonstop news by midnight Friday, shattering CBS' previous record of 55 hours of reporting in the days following John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963.

The coverage boosted viewership for most of the networks. An estimated 79.5 million Americans watched the coverage during prime time Sept. 11, with viewership levels dipping to 52.8 million by Friday, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon came days before the scheduled start of the fall television season, which analysts earlier predicted would be a make-or-break year for broadcasters that have increasingly bled viewers to cable channels.

The broadcasters pushed back the start of the season from Sept. 17 to Sept. 24, but most networks expect more disruptions are likely as the fallout from the attacks continue. "Obviously, it's going to be a great challenge for us, but the news must dictate the rest of the schedule," said one NBC executive who asked to not be named.

One possible bright spot for the networks: News-weary viewers may flock to entertainment shows this season, according to television historian and author Tim Brooks.

Ratings for comedy and variety shows surged in the months following the Kennedy assassination, as a depressed nation tried to take its mind off its troubles, Mr. Brooks said. Episodes of "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Beverly Hillbillies" that aired during that period are among Nielsen's list of the 25 most-watched telecasts of all time.

"Television is a way to clear the mind. There is a psychological need to focus on something else, if only for a little while," Mr. Brooks said.

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