Nets Covering Jackson Memorial Not Concerned About Ad Loss

Some 20,000 people on Tuesday morning filed into Los Angeles’ Staples Center to bear witness to Michael Jackson’s memorial service, and while it’s believed that tens of millions more watched on broadcast and cable TV and via streaming online video, a final reckoning won’t be available until Wednesday.

In the meantime, representatives from the TV outlets that covered the event said the loss of two hours of daytime inventory was a decidedly minor concern.

A tour around the dial offered up nearly 20 variations on the same theme, as ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Headline News, MTV, VH1, VH1 Classic, VH1Soul, BET, E!, TV Guide Channel, TV One, Univision and Telemundo aired live coverage of the singer’s memorial. But for a few exceptions, the networks that carried the feed did not break for commercials between around 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. EDT, ensuring that viewers were able to see the entire ceremony as it happened.

For news outlets, the limited pullback on inventory during the service was merely business as usual. “We only went commercial-free during the ceremony itself, so you’re looking at just about two hours,” said Greg D’Alba, executive vp and chief operating officer, CNN Ad Sales. “We carried regular spot loads right up to and immediately afterwards and so a lot of advertisers were able to benefit from the ratings lift.”

CNN deployed anchors Anderson Cooper, Soledad O’Brien and Don Lemon to L.A., along with Larry King. Along with its linear TV coverage, the network also offered real-time updates on CNN.com, including video of eulogists like Magic Johnson, Brooke Shields and Rev. Al Sharpton, as well as musical tributes by Stevie Wonder and John Mayer. In addition to a steady stream of reportage from the event, CNN.com supplemented its coverage with user-generated iReports and blog entries.

“Linear TV is still our core business, but our reach is turbo-charged by online,” D’Alba said. “An event of this scale really tests our technology. We really believe we reached a point of maximum overload, and yet everything seemed to hold up nicely. We should get some huge numbers across the board.”

Among the roster of clients that ran ads on CNN immediately before the service were General Motors, Geico and Morgan Stanley. Once CNN returned to its standard spot load, GM and Morgan Stanley returned in :30s, joined by Bridgestone and Priceline.com.

Fox News Channel’s coverage was spearheaded by Shepard Smith and Greta Van Susteren. Early on in FNC’s coverage of the service, Smith revealed that the death of Elvis Presley back in August 1977 played a role in his becoming a broadcaster.

“Live television events were relatively new to the nation … and completely new to Memphis,” Smith said, recounting his memories of watching a local television station cover the news of Elvis’ demise. “That was … the first live mini-cam that a local television station had ever used. And it was fascinating to me.”

CNN and FNC began their coverage at noon, while MSNBC started an hour earlier. Headline News carried the live feed, and CNBC cut in and out of the service throughout the early afternoon.

ABC was the first broadcaster to commit to airing the event, and anchor Charles Gibson steered the network’s coverage from New York. CBS’ Katie Couric and NBC’s Brian Williams reported from Los Angeles. (NBC initially balked at covering the service, but reversed course over the weekend.)


Meanwhile, the general-entertainment cable channels each came at the story from a unique angle, but as with their news-gathering counterparts, executives at the Viacom nets said the loss of a few hours of daytime inventory––about 14 minutes per hour per network––was no great sacrifice.