Hurricane Floyd blew away some regularly scheduled programs
on cable-news networks and dominated content on the remaining ones last week, while
lifting The Weather Channel to new ratings highs.
Luckily, Floyd's impact on MSOs along the East Coast
appeared to be minimal.
Suburban Cable said it was forced to close its
customer-satisfaction center in Wilmington, Del., after extensive flooding and dangerous
weather conditions last Thursday afternoon, but it reopened on Friday.
Suburban also reported numerous outages, largely due to
power failures, but it said last Friday that it appeared there was no major damage to its
At AT&T Broadband & Internet Services'
Atlantic division, executive director of communications David Capo said, "Luckily, we
fared very well. In Miami and the Keys, we held our breath, but there was nothing out of
the ordinary -- some 'drops,' but no plant catastrophes." A call center in
the evacuation area was closed for 24 hours, "but customers reporting outages could
leave voice mails," he added.
The MSO hadn't gotten reports yet from systems in the
Delmarva Peninsula, the New Jersey shore or Hartford, Conn., Capo said.
A Time Warner Cable spokesman said his MSO was "doing
damage assessment now" in Wilmington, N.C., and other affected markets. And a Charter
Communications spokeswoman said she'd heard nothing yet from the field.
Deborah Lathen, chief of the Federal Communications
Commission's Cable Services Bureau, wasn't as lucky. She sustained minor head
and arm injuries last Thursday while riding in a taxi that was struck by a falling tree in
the Washington, D.C., area.
Interest in Floyd brought TWC record ratings last Tuesday
-- a 1.9 total-day household rating, representing 1.4 million homes, according to Nielsen
Media Research. The network peaked at a 3.4 rating, or 2.5 million homes, in the 8 p.m. to
8:15 p.m. span.
Floyd also sparked a record 23.5 million page views on
TWC's Web site -- about six or seven times normal levels, executives said.
Wednesday's total dipped to 22 million, but both marks were well above the previous
high of 12.6 million, set in September 1998 during Hurricane Georges.
Fox News Channel didn't disrupt its Tuesday primetime
slate, but vice president of news editorial John Moody said, "Since 6 a.m. Wednesday,
we've been all-live, and the vast proportion of that [coverage] -- 90 percent -- has
been the hurricane. We blew out our regular primetime [schedule] on Wednesday, and
we'll continue that way until at least [Friday]."
The coverage was extensive and expensive, but its
widespread impact justified that, he added, without offering a production estimate.
"We had to blow out some commercials [for the
hurricane story], but we probably blew out more for the [Fort Worth, Texas] shooting
story," Moody said. He assumed that FNC would offer make-goods to affected
advertisers, although he stressed that this wasn't his bailiwick.
FNC also plugged its Web coverage, as did Cable News
Network and MSNBC. FNC's Wednesday traffic was "nearly double," a
spokeswoman said, without offering details.
The other news networks mostly gave over existing programs
to Floyd coverage.
The hurricane also made for some unusual cross-media
pairings. CNN's Larry King Live Wednesday featured as guests CBS News'
Dan Rather in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and meteorologist Sam Champion of WABC-TV, New York. And
Champion's counterpart on WNBC-TV, Janice Huff, updated the storm's progress
nightly on MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams.
Perhaps to justify the live coverage, Williams said Floyd
was having an impact on "about one-quarter of the United States," from Florida
to Maine. An FNC anchor described Floyd as "larger than the state of Florida, larger
CNN Headline News covered Vice President Al Gore saying
that the evacuation from Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas was "the largest
peacetime evacuation in any disaster in U.S. history." South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges
told MSNBC much the same, estimating that 3 million residents were involved.
By last Thursday, when Floyd was downgraded to a tropical
storm, MSNBC's Crosstalk daytimer sought debate on whether evacuation was
"the right call."
Discovery Networks U.S. ran several primetime specials
about hurricanes on Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel, and it sent the Animal
Planet Rescue Truck to Columbia, S.C., to help animal victims.