At 9 p.m. on Sunday March 10, one day short of the six-month anniversary of the September 11 tragedy, U.S. net CBS aired its highly anticipated documentary titled simply 9/11. The film, shot by brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet, includes exclusive images of the first plane’s impact with the World Trade Center, as well as footage from inside Tower One (the second tower to fall) up to minutes before its collapse. According to Nielsen data, the broadcast pulled in 39 million viewers and won a 16.2 rating with adults aged 18 to 48, a ranking 31% higher than the number two show for the week. The program’s audience size is superceded this season only by the Super Bowl, two Olympic broadcasts and the seventh game of the World Series.
The film was edited from about 180 hours of footage in partnership with a CBS News production team led by Susan Zirinsky. The final two-hour program ran uninterrupted by commercials and included only three breaks (totaling seven- and-a-half minutes) from the doc’s sole sponsor, Nextel Communications, which joined the project two weeks prior to the broadcast. The nature of Nextel’s support mirrors sponsorship deals found on u.s. pubcaster pbs, but is uncommon on a commercial network. Explains Ben Silverman, the Naudets’ agent, ‘We positioned the deal so that CBS had to bring in a sponsor, because we did not want any commercial interruptions. We also went out with CBS and helped them try to bring in sponsors.’ Both CBS and Nextel donated funds to the Uniformed Firefighters Association Scholarship Fund.
CBS has the rights to broadcast 9/11 a second time and is expected to do so on the tragedy’s one-year anniversary. A number of international outlets have signed on to do the same. They include the BBC, Brazil’s Globo Television, Channel 7 in Australia, Denmark’s TV 2, France 2, German pubcaster ARD, Italian pubcaster RAI, Norway’s TV 2, NTV in Japan, ORF in Austria, both RTBF and VRT in Belgium, Spain’s Telecinco, Sweden’s TV 4 and TV New Zealand. Silverman notes that the international outlets also licensed the film for two broadcasts (within a short period of time), but the rights then revert back to the Naudets through Reveille, the New York-based production company recently founded by Silverman.
There are currently no plans to release the film theatrically, although Silverman says he has fielded requests from a number of interested film festivals. ‘It’s still something for discussion,’ says Silverman. ‘But, it’s not a film you can sit and have popcorn while you watch. We think the best environment is in people’s homes, with their families.’