Michael Jackson Funeral Mostly Commercial-Free on TV

Network News Coverage Pre-empts Spots, but Ads Appear Online

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The Andrae Crouch singers, the Jackson family and guests sing 'We Are the World' at Michael Jackson's memorial service.
The Andrae Crouch singers, the Jackson family and guests sing 'We Are the World' at Michael Jackson's memorial service. Credit: AP

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Viewers who flocked to coverage of Michael Jackson's memorial service today saw many wondrous sights, ranging from the entertainer's daughter speaking in public to a re-creation of his famous composition "We Are The World." What they didn't see, at least on most TV networks, were commercials.

Both NBC News and ABC News broadcast the proceedings without commercial interruption, a typical practice in the case of ongoing coverage of a major news events, according to spokespersons for each organization. Indeed, many advertisers strike ad deals with networks with the provision that their commercials be pulled in case the programming they originally wanted to support is pre-empted or otherwise disrupted.

No room for ads
Even so, one can make the argument that the coverage of Mr. Jackson's memorial doesn't carry the same gravitas as a press conference by a sitting U.S. president or coverage of a national disaster. That said, when news divisions pre-empt coverage and don't break from an event, there's no room to run ads. But marketers who purchased time in daytime soap operas, talk shows or syndicated programming often come from the notoriously conservative consumer-products industry and may have found a tribute to Mr. Jackson to be inappropriate anyway, despite the good intentions of the organizers.

The networks probably will not lose revenue, as they did in 2001 when coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks pre-empted programming for days. In many of these cases, advertisers are given "make goods," or additional ad time on air to make up for the loss of commercial showings.

Broadcast TV was not the only venue through which Mr. Jackson's tribute was viewed. TV network websites were up and running. At MSNBC.com, for instance, preliminary numbers show that visitors watched 3 million live streams of the service. The site had more than 82 million page views and 7 million unique visitors, as of 5 p.m. EDT. On web pages, ads can run concurrently with streaming coverage, rather than interrupting it or blocking it from view.

Another boont for Facebook, CNN
CNN.com's live stream, which included an integration with Facebook Connect, drew 11.8 million unique visitors and 9.7 million live video streams by 5 p.m. ET, according to Omniture, with a maximum of 781,000 concurrent views, according to server logs from the network. Banner ads were featured. Sirius Satellite Radio, Procter & Gamble, AT&T, and Nissan all bought ads that ran during CNN and Facebook's online coverage yesterday, but did not buy ads specifically to surround the coverage of Mr. Jackson's memorial.

Although it doesn't match the record 13.9 million live streams President Barack Obama's inauguration drew in January, the coverage still gave a boost to Facebook, which received more than 11.8 million unique visitors and 81 million page views throughout the day, and at one point saw more than 6,000 status updates per minute.

Twitter also saw heavy Michael Jackson-related traffic, shutting down temporarily at least once and with all 10 trending topics relating to coverage of Mr. Jackson's memorial. The term "Michael Jackson" also generated 80,000 tweets per hour.

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