'Path' is clear of commercials to varied outlets

ABC has decided the best sponsor for its upcoming Sept. 11 mini is no sponsor at all.

After originally announcing its intention to air “The Path to 9/11” with limited commercial interruption, the network now will air both parts of the $30 million Harvey Keitel starrer without any advertising.

What’s more, the Alphabet will potentially limit its backend profits by allowing consumers to download the complete miniseries — for free — via Apple’s iTunes Music Store. Mini also will be streamed for free via ABC.com, and XM Radio has pacted with the network to make an audiocast of the film available to its subscribers.

ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson said the commercial-free strategy was the most appropriate route to take with this project.

“We looked at different scenarios (and) talked to possible (advertising) partners, and none of it made sense,” McPherson said. “This is the most respectful way to present this.”

McPherson isn’t hiding the fact that ABC’s sales department had conversations with advertisers about sponsoring the project in exchange for a select few commercial pods. That strategy has been used in the past when series episodes or movies have been deemed too sensitive for traditional sponsorship.

The first time ABC aired “Saving Private Ryan,” it did so sans commercials thanks to a sponsorship deal with Ford. Automaker struck a similar deal backing NBC’s broadcast of “Schindler’s List.”

McPherson said ABC “investigated whether there were any partnerships to be had” with several companies, including ABC parent Walt Disney.

“The creative was so limiting, in the end we didn’t think it was appropriate,” he said.

McPherson said by offering the show for free on iTunes and via streaming video on ABC.com, the net hoped to expose as many people as possible to the findings of the 9/11 Commission, whose report forms the basis of the mini’s script.

“By giving it this platform and by dramatizing it, we’ll get more people to get that information,” he said. “We spent $30 million on this and we’re putting it on without commercials. How important we think this is speaks for itself.”

ABC said the last time it aired a broadcast with neither commercials nor sponsorship was shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when it — and numerous other nets — aired the “Tribute to Heroes” fund-raiser.

Because “Path to 9/11” will air without sponsorship, whatever audience it attracts won’t be officially recorded by Nielsen.

To spread the word about “Path to 9/11,” ABC is sending 100,000 high school educators a letter from 9/11 Commission co-chair Tom Keane informing them of the various platforms on which the mini is available. ABC and Scholastic have pacted to produce an online study guide.

Because the miniseries’ actual length is less than the six-hour, two-night block in which it’s scheduled to run, ABC has had to make other plans to fill the time following the conclusions of both parts.

ABC News has already prepared a special documentary hosted by Charlie Gibson to air following the end of night two of the mini, just after 10 p.m. on Sept. 11. Alphabet is still finalizing plans for the roughly 10 minutes of airtime left at the conclusion of night one, on Sept. 10.

Marc Platt exec produced “The Path to 9/11,” with Cyrus Nowrasteh writing the script. David L. Cunningham directed.

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