Newsies stick to ad-free programs

NEW YORK — For the foreseeable future, cable news nets will stay commercial-free. Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, which have been airing wall-to-wall news without ads since Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, aren’t sure when they’ll get back to business as usual.

An MSNBC spokesman said the news net has no plans to begin airing commercials anytime soon. CNN and Fox News haven’t yet made a decision about when they’ll return to breaks.

“It’s a judgment call based on the news environment,” said a Turner Broadcasting spokesman. Headline News, which had been preempted for CNN, returned to its regular coverage and began airing commercials Wednesday.

As they make the transition back to regular programming, the broadcast nets and other cablers will begin airing commercials. But they’ll shuffle their ad skeds, dropping commercials that seem inappropriate given the recent national tragedy. And when the cable newsies get back to commercials, they will also be ultrasensitive about which blurbs they broadcast.

Airline ads grounded

Television sales execs largely agree that there won’t be many commercials for financial services or airlines for quite some time.

“There’s a lot of advertisers who don’t feel it’s the right environment for their spot,” said the Turner Broadcasting spokesman, who added that the net is re-examining ads “against the backdrop of the current circumstances. We may unilaterally pull them if they don’t seem to be in good taste.”

Some advertisers whose commercials are entirely unrelated to travel or financial services might choose to pull their spots or air them at a later time.

“A lot of advertisers don’t want to advertise yet. Some would prefer to hold off now because they don’t want to appear opportunistic,” said one network exec.

But a CBS spokesman said that “when we are ready to run spots, there will be advertisers who want to be in the shows.”

Even as the nets begin to ease back into regular programming, they are wary of making any long-term plans. If the broadcast nets need to return to continuous breaking news coverage, they expect to drop commercials.

“Everything is subject to change depending upon news events,” said an NBC spokesman.

Meanwhile, nobody in the industry seems ready to start assessing the financial damage of going commercial-free.

“Everybody’s attention is really focused on newsgathering and providing the most thorough coverage we can. Revenue has not been a primary concern this week,” said the Turner Broadcasting spokesman.

Industry estimates suggest that the television industry is losing more than $100 million a day by going commercial-free. There’s also the additional cost of covering the news 24 hours a day and replacing transmitters that had been located atop the World Trade Center.

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