Fast Track - Broadcasting & Cable

Fast Track

Lost ratings make recovery even more costly
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Hurricanes Hit Broadcasters' Bottom Line

Broadcasters in South Florida and New Orleans face a complicated— and expensive—effort to dig out of the wreckage.

Complicating life for the affected companies is a dearth of reliable data from Nielsen Media Research. In the West Palm Beach and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., markets, widespread damage from Hurricane Wilma forced Nielsen late last week to suspend November sweeps. The research giant says Wilma, which hit on Oct. 24, disrupted too many meters to report a reliable sample. The storm also impeded Nielsen's distribution of sweeps diaries. The ratings firm had already cancelled November sweeps in New Orleans and Biloxi due to Hurricane Katrina, which decimated the Gulf Coast in late August. The storm has cost broadcast companies millions of dollars.

Viacom, which owns UPN station WUPL New Orleans, said last week that it suffered $7 million in lost revenue and $15 million in expenses in the third quarter. Belo Corp., which owns market-leading CBS affiliate WWL, has lowered the station's fourth-quarter revenue projections from $11 million to $2 million-$3 million. Belo says it lost out on $7.1 million from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Katrina is also thwarting local station sales. In July, Belo cut a deal to buy WUPL for $14.5 million but is now delaying closing. Emmis Communications, which is selling off its TV stations, is having difficulty finding a buyer for Fox affiliate WVUE New Orleans.

In Florida, local broadcasters reacted to their November ratings cancellation with frustration because most of the planned stories are on hold and media buys have been cancelled. Local stations had already prepped splashy special reports and bought radio and newspaper ads trumpeting their news. “It is disappointing because we had very strong momentum going to November,” says Brian Lawlor, VP/GM for WPTV, the top-rated station in West Palm Beach.

Without November sweeps data, which provides demographic ratings that are the currency for ad sales, West Palm Beach stations will continue using results from May 2005, its most recent book. Miami stations have more-recent data to sell on. Nielsen collects October and January data in the market, and stations plan to use those results until February. “The October book reflects our success with the new fall prime programming, allowing us to supply the buyers with current information on which to base their advertising buys,” says Brien Kennedy, president/GM for five Viacom-owned Florida stations, including CBS O&O WFOR Miami.

But November is when networks and syndicators typically run more specials and stunts to drive up ratings. Without a November book, stations miss the opportunity to convert. With ABC's prime time surging, affiliate WPLG Miami was predicting strong ratings, says VP/GM David Boylan: “We are very disappointed we will not be able to show the great ratings and demographics.”—Allison Romano

Senate Defeats Hard-Date Move

The full Senate voted 69-30 Thursday to defeat an attempt by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to move the DTV transition hard date from April 2009 to April 2008.

A similar amendment was defeated in the Commerce Committee markup on the DTV-transition bill. That is the date when analog broadcasting will cease and digital will take over as the new national standard.

An amendment that would have cut the subsidy for digital-to-analog tuners from $3 billion to $1 billion was withdrawn before a vote.—John Eggerton

Raycom To Sell 12 Stations

Three months after cutting a deal to buy Liberty Corp.'s 15 TV stations, Raycom Media now plans to sell off 12 of its own network affiliates. The privately held company says it is paring off selected outlets to eliminate duplicate properties and to focus on its holdings in the Midwest and Southeast.

Raycom projects that the sales could fetch up to $600 million and is working with Belmoro Corporate Advisors and Wachovia Securities.—A.R.

Tomlinson Quits CPB Board

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting board of directors said last week that embattled former board chairman Ken Tomlinson has resigned.

The board has been reviewing a CPB Inspector General's report—called for by a pair of congressmen—on Tomlinson's relationship with the board stemming from his attempts to fight what he perceived as public TV's liberal bias. He hired an outside consultant to gauge the bias in shows, particularly Now With Bill Moyers.

The CPB board has been under fire itself from groups complaining that it has not released the report and has been meeting in closed session about it.—J.E.

CBS Buys CSTV

CBS bought CSTV Networks for $325 million in stock, marking the broadcast network's first foray into cable college sports. The deal is expected to close in January 2006 after governmental approvals and the Viacom split are completed.

CSTV is a digital cable network that covers college athletics and serves about 15 million subscribers. It also operates official Web sites for 250 colleges and their teams.—Joel Meyer

Viacom Fills Station Slots

New President/CEO of the Viacom Television Station Group Tom Kane has filled two key holes in the group's executive ranks created after former Executive VP/COO Dennis Swanson, defected to rival Fox Television Stations.

Last week, Kane tapped current station group CFO Anton Guitano to also be executive VP of operations, Swanson's old post. Guitano, a 27-year CBS veteran, will now oversee operations for the 40 Viacom owned stations.

Another Viacom Stations vet, Peter Dunn, most recently president of ad sales, is president/GM for flagship WCBS New York. Dunn takes over from Lew Leone, who left to become VP/GM for Fox-owned WNYW and WWOR New York.—A.R.

Brown Out at CNN

NewsNight anchor Aaron Brown is leaving CNN after more than four years at the network. The program's 10 p.m. ET time slot will be filled by a two-hour edition of Anderson Cooper 360 beginning Nov. 7.

Until Hurricane Katrina, NewsNight had been an hour-long show followed by a repeat of Lou Dobbs Tonight at 11 p.m. After the storm, CNN expanded NewsNight to another hour, adding coverage from Cooper, who gained internal praise and acclaim in media circles for his emotional reporting on Katrina. CNN dropped 21% in prime from last year during October, averaging 824,000 total viewers.—Anne Becker

ABC's Raddatz Is White House Bound

ABC News is expected to name Martha Raddatz senior White House Correspondent as early as this week. Currently, senior national security correspondent, Raddatz would take the reins from newly named Nightline co-anchor Terry Moran, according to industry sources.

Raddatz joined ABC News in 1999 from National Public Radio, where she covered foreign policy and defense. At ABC News, she has distinguished herself with coverage of the Pentagon and the Iraq War. Earlier reports pegged 20/20's Jim Avila to be Moran's successor at the White House. An ABC News spokesman declined comment.—A.R.

FCC: All Sets Must Have DTV Tuners

As expected, the FCC Thursday opened a notice of proposed rulemaking into the local-franchising process for multichannel video providers. It also extended the emergency-alert system to digital TV stations, and modified the DTV-tuner mandate to cover smaller sets like the portable ones that prove to be lifelines in emergencies.

The FCC decided to extend the DTV-tuner mandate to all sets, not just those 13 inches and larger. It is also moving up the tuner mandate by four months to March 1, 2007. That is the date after which all TV receivers sold must be able to receive a digital signal.—J.E.

Clarification

The Ad Council continues to use the “Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk” campaign in addition to its new campaign “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving” (B&C, 10/31, page 4).

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