A common image is seared into the minds of Americans: One tower on
fire, a commercial jet hits the other, and both towers spout black smoke
and flames. The towers eventually collapse, all captured in
What hope does a VNR have in breaking through the clutter to fill
today's small news hole when TV producers need no help in capturing
today's powerful, hard news images with their own cameras?
The steep drop in demand for canned footage means that VNR companies are
scrambling to find ways to help their clients earn a slice of the
smaller airtime pie. But it also means they are working to nurture other
(albeit less profitable) revenue sources that use similar technology and
expertise, such as webcasting and videoconferencing.
While stressing that some VNRs will still be screened, Deborah Nettune,
media director of DWJ Television, says she is telling her clients that
producers are walking a tightrope between responsible coverage of
breaking news and an attempt to return to normalcy. But normalcy will
not mean a return to frothy news of yesteryear.
"Features and other fluff news are pretty much out of the picture," says
Nettune. "Stations are looking for hard-core news."
On the morning of September 11, representatives of Medialink, the
nation's largest VNR producer and distributor, called all its clients
and advised them to postpone their projects until further notice. DS
Simon Productions was so concerned about potential clients shying away
from SMTs or VNRs for fear regular news would be preempted by breaking
news (thereby dumping any stories that may have featured VNRs), the
company now sells insurance for interrupted SMTs and VNRs.
John Hawkins, VP of corporate communications for Choice Hotels
International, based in Silver Spring, MD, bought the insurance. Choice
paid an additional $1,250 for the insurance on top of the $20,000 fee for the VNR promoting the company's "Thanks for Traveling"
campaign designed to promote tourism.
He says he doesn't regret spending the extra money for the
"The way the news has gone the last couple of weeks, you don't know what
might hit and what might knock you off the television," says
"In our particular case, the VNR relates to the big story that is going
on right now: this whole war on terrorism and how it has seriously
impacted one of our major industries, the travel industry. It's a timely
topic that can help round out a hard newscast to show what people are
doing to respond. But if, God forbid, something else occurs, it will
push this into the background."
But for companies that cannot tie their activities to hard news stories,
a VNR may not be able to break into many hard-news-dominated TV
programs, which is why some VNR companies are pushing webcasting and
videoconferencing in lieu of producing VNRs. The same fears that are
leaving business-travel airline seats empty can move companies to try
videoconferencing to hold group discussions from disparate locations.
The same wall-to-wall news coverage that has constricted the news hole
can move marketing to the internet, where companies can webcast their
information to a specific audience.
At On the Scene Productions, the demand for videoconferencing began just
two days after the attacks. The Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory
Council (APAAC) had scheduled a keynote speaker to fly in from Los
Angeles for a 500-person training seminar. With all planes grounded, the
speaker, based in Los Angeles, had no way to get to the venue in
"We were reviewing options available to us on Wednesday morning, when
the possibility of having the presentation beamed via satellite was
suggested," says Bruce Bowers of the APAAC. "The bottom line is that the
program went off without a hitch."
For companies not wary of travel, but rightfully concerned about the
likelihood of VNRs being broadcast on television, webcasting boasts
sound and video, without the threat of being preempted from a one-off
Steve Gold, president of TVN Communications Group, predicts that as
television becomes harder to access, webcasting demand will increase.
Terri Clevenger, a PR consultant with Weisscomm Partners in Weston, CT,
began a webcast campaign for client MAGIC Foundation before the attacks.
In light of current events, Clevenger says she's glad she made that
choice from the beginning.
"My professional opinion is that I would not use a VNR right now,"
Clevenger says. "The same thing happened during the Gulf War. We were
smack in the middle of a promotion then, too, and we pulled back all our
Production and screening of PSAs, however, has not been hit so hard by
recent events, as they appear in ad breaks. Cynthia Patrasso, president
of Orbis Broadcast Group, says many of her clients' health, medical,
safety, and healthy lifestyle VNRs continue to get play due to their
still-relevant subject matter. But Patrasso adds that PSAs are in a
prime position to capitalize on a weak economy, with plenty of airtime
empty due to a pullback in advertising budgets and concern that some
commercials are inappropriate to air post-September 11.
"Some people may have to rethink some of the things they're doing, and
PSAs or additional PSAs replacing VNRs for some companies may be a good
idea," says Patrasso, who adds that the news of the day is likely to
elbow out VNRs for some time to come.
With the news of the day changing rapidly in these uncertain times, Mike
Hill, president of News Broadcast Network, advises VNR companies to
exercise patience in making decisions and advising clients.
"The impact of all this will be much clearer in four to six weeks," Hill
says, adding, "Much of it is really beyond our control, and our clients'