School Shooting Stuns Locals in Cable, DBS4/25/1999 8:00 PM Eastern
The cameras were turned on the cable industry's
backyard last week, as reporters from cable- and broadcast-news teams set up camp in the
Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo., in an impossible attempt to make sense of the single
worst case of school violence in U.S. history.
The Denver area has long been ground zero for the
multichannel-video industry, and it is home to a number of MSOs, direct-broadcast
satellite companies, programmers, Internet-service providers and other related businesses.
Littleton is also home to AT&T Broadband & Internet Services' National
Digital Television Center.
Companies based in Littleton and neighboring Englewood were
hit especially hard. Sources reported that several employees at EchoStar Communications
Corp. and at least one at MediaOne Group Inc. lost relatives in the shootings, which
claimed the lives of 14 students and one teacher at Littleton's Columbine High School
Many others lost friends. A number of EchoStar's
younger call-center employees graduated from Columbine within the past year or two and
still had acquaintances there.
But regardless of whether local companies had employees
with direct ties to the shootings, all shared a common sense of grief and a call to
At High Speed Access Corp., which had been based in
Littleton before moving to Denver, "it didn't touch us physically, but it has
overwhelmed us emotionally," vice president of corporate communications Marian
Neely-Carlson said. "It's the quiet. Many of the flags are flown at half
"It's beyond words how much this has affected
even those of us fortunate enough not to be directly affected," AT&T
Broadband's TCI Denver executive director of communications Matt Fleury said. His
wife covered the Columbine scene and its aftermath as a local television reporter.
Televisions were on nearly nonstop up and down office halls
in Denver during and after the slaughter.
Some EchoStar executives heard the news first through a
live television feed at their booth at last week's National Association of
Broadcasters Convention in Las Vegas, and they watched as some of their co-workers back
home were interviewed on-air.
Because the company's offices are only a mile away
from the high school, other EchoStar employees were caught in police-imposed lockdowns for
several hours after they had visited local restaurants for lunch. At company headquarters,
employees could hear nearby sirens and helicopters.
Like MediaOne, EchoStar responded immediately with
electronic-mail communications to employees in and out of town, informing them where
parents of high-school students were asked to assemble.
EchoStar offered to host a blood drive and to provide
uplink or office facilities for cable-news programmers in town to cover the story.
MediaOne and AT&T Broadband reminded workers of their
ongoing employee-assistance benefits, which offer counseling.
"As a corporation, MediaOne Group made every effort to
extend everything possible to those employees and gave them every opportunity to take care
of family affairs," spokeswoman Tracy Hollingsworth said.
Both MediaOne and AT&T Broadband also made donations to
The Healing Fund, created by the Mile-High United Way to help victims and their families.
They, as well as other local companies, are still determining how their corporate
assistance will be of best use to the community following the tragedy.
"We don't even know what's needed yet,"
Fleury said. "People don't have a lot of practice."
Several companies suggested that local companies band
together to create a special industry-backed fund. System-level executives, programmers
and investment firms from outside of the area have already called to offer support.
Some area workers expressed a sense of the surreal as they
saw national-news anchors holed outside of the local park or Starbucks Coffee shop.
"It was weird," an EchoStar spokeswoman said.
"This is not Kosovo."
But Littleton did rival the Balkans for the media spotlight
The cable all-news networks offered blanket live coverage
of the Littleton tragedy last Tuesday, continuing with extensive coverage during the week,
and they saw their ratings spike up.
Cable News Network averaged a 2.1 rating total-day, or 1.6
million homes -- up 257 percent compared with the rest of April to date -- according to
Nielsen Media Research data from Fox News Channel.
FNC for total day did a 0.9 rating, or 361,000 homes -- a
232 percent increase compared with the month to date.
MSNBC scored a 1.2 total-day rating, or 569,000 households
-- its second-highest total-day rating ever. MSNBC's highest full-day rating was
Sept. 6, 1997, the day of Princess Diana's funeral.
The all-news outlets also saw a leap in their primetime
ratings on the night of the Littleton massacre. CNN was tops, with a 4.8 rating, or 3.7
million homes. MSNBC did a 2.9, or 1.4 million homes, while FNC averaged a 2.2 in
primetime, or 884,000 households.
CNN's live coverage of the shootings, from 1:54 p.m.
to 8 p.m., averaged a 4.5 rating, or 3.5 million households, according to the network.
Viewership peaked from 7:47 p.m. to 8 p.m., during President Clinton's address on the
tragedy. During that time span, CNN registered a 6.4 rating, or 4.9 million homes.
The all-news channels weren't the only cable outlets
that served up programming pegged to the Littleton massacre last week.
A&E Network moved up the airdate for its 20th
Century with Mike Wallace: Slaughter at Schools to last Friday (April 23) from its
original May 10. The network speeded up postproduction work on the show to get in on the
air early, and Wallace taped a new introduction that made reference to what happened in
Littleton, an A&E spokeswoman said.
"Just like a news organization, we wanted our
programming to be timely," she said. "We wanted to shed light on this topic and
on what has happened in other places. But it did not include any Littleton footage."
Nickelodeon and America's Voice also offered their
spins on the tragedy. Nick last Thursday aired a revised Nick News Special Edition:
Kids and Guns, hosted by Linda Ellerbee, which included talk about the Littleton
And America's Voice aired a two-hour special on the
topic, Teen Terror: Schools in Crisis.