Originally Published: SEPTEMBER 19, 2001
The economic impact of last week’s events on the media is devastating in the short-term, but will most likely have positive long-term implications for several media companies.
Just a few weeks ago, The Myers Report published a worst-case scenario for 2001 advertising spending, projecting a potential 6.6% decline in media spending compared to 2000. Unfortunately, it now appears that the worst case is a probability, with even greater downside potential if future events cause greater disruption to network schedules and advertisers’ plans. Assuming that war related events will continue to unfold, the impact on 2002 ad spending will be great.
We are in a wartime economy. Companies that are providers of information – both content and distribution – stand to be strengthened during this period. The major corporations that are the backbone of this nation’s communications infrastructure will gain new regulatory freedom to preserve and protect their systems. Cable television operators will be given greater freedom to consolidate. Local Bell operating companies will be given increased authority to expand their service areas. Wireless communications standards will be enhanced and the major carriers will gain government support for investing in upgrades and redundancy, in order to assure that cellular service continues during emergencies.
Broadcasters are the most negatively impacted. They are totally dependent on advertising revenues for their vitality. The ad market was already in steep decline – the greatest in the industry’s history – prior to the attacks. The incremental lost revenues are staggering. The disruption to the launch of new season programming will have long-term negative impact on network ratings. People’s hunger for news and information will require that the networks rethink their programming strategies, and also determine if reality programming like CBS’ Big Brother and ABC’s The Runner remain relevant in light of the all-too real concerns we have of a war being fought on American soil.
Television networks will focus on news and documentaries about our domestic military preparedness, and our behind-the-scenes global initiatives. News executives will be especially challenged to confront right-to-know issues versus national security. We will certainly become more introspective.
As a wartime economy and mentality permeates the country, advertisers will find it difficult to plan media campaigns and creative strategies. Schedules will be subject to change, pre-emption and ad free news coverage without notice. Networks will need to review every program on their schedules for content and appropriateness. Viewers will be more likely to watch news and relevant documentaries than entertainment. They may, however, also stay at home more and watch more television, generating increased ratings. Ironically, higher ratings mean increased supply, further driving down ad costs. New product launches will be put on hold. Bold, in-your-face advertising campaigns such as those launched during the NFL season and World Series will be scratched. Inconceivable as it may be, it’s not totally unreasonable to think that both the World Series and Super Bowl may be cancelled altogether because of terrorist threats.
At best, advertisers and media are in a wait and see game now. Their best hope is that America and its allies are able to forcefully and quickly respond and that we can return to a full sense of normalcy. But we do not need to read George W. Bush’s lips. We are at war. It
will not be a short war. It will not be an easy war. We have no way to measure its impact or duration. But if any of us believes that the worst is over, we need to listen more closely to our leaders and hear what they are telling us.