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TV ratings may rise, but local stations are paying a price

Alan Pergament

This is what I’m thinking:

As I’ve written before, local television news has done an excellent public service covering the coronavirus pandemic and all the resulting cancellations and closings.

With people’s lives at stake during the pandemic, it almost seems somewhat inappropriate or even callous to discuss the financial cost local television stations and all forms of media are paying because businesses – their advertisers – are closing in the interim.

Sure, the ratings are likely to improve because people are stuck at home and watching television at higher rates than normal.

The local news ratings Monday from 4 p.m. through 6:30 p.m. were significantly higher than normal. At 6 p.m., WIVB-TV (Channel 4) had a 14.3 rating and WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) a 11.5 rating, which are extremely high for that half-hour.

However, the stations routinely have had to preempt shows for news conferences by President Trump, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Additionally, they are dealing with advertiser fallout from some – but not all – business segments.

After all, why would some retail advertisers buy ad time when their stores are forced to close, and they can’t sell anything?

If the closures continue, the financial hit stands to be bigger over the next two months.

Naturally, local general managers are reluctant to share revenue numbers in good times or both times.

“We are working closely with our local advertisers to assist with their messaging around how they are adapting and doing business differently in these unique times,” wrote WKBW-TV General Manager Marc Jaromin in an email response to a question.

The regular TV season for broadcast channels ends in May and viewership in the summer declines when the weather improves.

The ad cancellations have led to stations running more public service announcements than usual.

In somewhat similar situations, advertising sales rally once things are under control. The unanswerable question is how long that will take.

Poloncarz’s decision to hold a newss conference during the 6 p.m. newscasts Wednesday created a dilemma for local TV stations. How long do they stay? They all carried the unusual news conference through the 6:30 p.m. end time of their local newscasts.

WKBW-TV (Channel 7) was the only station to break from the news conference at 6:30 p.m., when the national newscasts began. It carried “World News Tonight” with David Muir as scheduled. I'm sure I was not the only one that agreed with that call since it gave viewers an option to watch a national newscast.

WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) was able to carry “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” at 7 p.m. but only was able to tell viewers it was going to do so after breaking from the Poloncarz presser at 6:57 p.m. I’m told the news conference ended around 7:20 p.m.

I understand why the stations stayed so long to hear Poloncarz and Health Commissioner Gale Burstein talk about the impact of the health crisis in Western New York. There was some important information in there.

But I imagine some Holt viewers were saying “please make it stop” as the information was so dryly presented and could have been summarized on 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts. Even the county executive seemed bored at times when he wasn’t speaking.

In an ideal world, the conference could have been held at 7 p.m. after the national newscasts.

In an ideal world, reporters also could have been in the room where it happened as they have been in regular news conferences.

However, the need for social distancing prevented that and led to a cumbersome situation for reporters that made important follow-up questions more difficult to pursue.

Undoubtedly, the stressful pandemic situation means everyone needs a laugh.

And Channel 2 anchor Scott Levin supplied it Tuesday night.

After noting a local supermarket was having special hours for seniors, he cracked to co-anchor Maryalice Demler that was good for them.

She didn’t seem as amused as I was hearing Levin making fun of their ages.

Actually, neither anchor qualifies since the age required for senior shopping was 60. Both anchors are in their mid-50s.


Coronavirus outbreak coverage

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