February 25, 2021

Hurricane Coverage Is Ratings Driver for Weather Channel

NAGS HEAD, N.C. — Standing where he warned others not to tread, the beach on the Outer Banks during Hurricane Irene’s landfall, Mike Seidel had sand in his teeth, his pockets and his ears. He was soaking wet, barely able to hear — and he was beaming.

“We haven’t missed a live shot in three hours!” he exclaimed while trying to stand up on the battered beach here in his seventh hour of live television reporting. A minute later, he was back on the Weather Channel, where he would stay for a total of 15 hours on Saturday, seeing, feeling and tasting the storm several times each hour as a surrogate for viewers and a guide for evacuees.

Yes, what Mr. Seidel does may seem crazy at times, but most important for him and for his bosses, it is compelling TV — the Weather Channel’s ratings are never higher than when a hurricane is making landfall. Like Home Depot selling plywood for windows or Wal-Mart selling jugs of water, the Weather Channel sells coverage of weather-related disasters. Delivering on its promise to take people into the path of Mother Nature is what makes the channel a must-carry for cable systems across the United States, and what allows it to sell so many storm-related ads to insurance companies and home improvement stores before, during and after storms.

Commercials over the weekend urged viewers to “come back” after the storm coverage.

It is harder than it looks, staying on live television during a hurricane. But Mr. Seidel, a meteorologist by training, lives for it. After 10 hours on the air, when Eileen Winslow, a senior assignment editor, called to ask whether he wanted a break, he said firmly, “I don’t want any down time. Not till it ends.”

There are ways to show hurricane conditions safely, he says — by not going too far into the water, for instance, like some local television reporters did on Saturday, increasing their chances of being tugged out to sea by the current. Still, it briefly became dangerous for Mr. Seidel’s camera crew here at mid-afternoon on Saturday, as the core of the storm punched through the nearby Albemarle Sound.

It took three men to hold down the camera, which was perched on a slippery second-floor deck, peering down at Mr. Seidel on the wet beach. The crew feared the deck railing might fly away, so they moved to a safer third-floor balcony, eating up 45 minutes of broadcasting time. A different section of the deck railing did, indeed, collapse an hour later.

Hurricane Irene was an especially wide storm system, affecting an exceptionally high number of people on the East Coast, so television images served as a warning to people in harm’s way, and entertainment for those who were not.

All of the major television networks extended hours of news programming over the weekend; they knew that although some viewers laughed at images of reporters being blown over by winds, they were definitely watching. They were accused by many of overhyping the storm, but as the longtime anchor for NBC’s New York station, Chuck Scarborough, said on air on Sunday, “We’re in the news business. We deal in doom.”

For Irene, Mr. Seidel first flew to Palm Beach, Fla., for live shots on Monday, when the hurricane was threatening Florida. He moved to North Carolina on Wednesday. Finally, as the storm made landfall on Saturday about 80 miles south-southwest of here, there was news to report.

Mr. Seidel started broadcasting at 5 a.m. from the second-floor deck of the Comfort Inn in South Nags Head, purposely positioning himself away from the protection of the building to show the most serious winds. Sometimes he’d have to stand there, silently braced against the deck railing, just so the channel could show he was there — what he called a “bobble-head” shot.

In between live shots he wiped the rain off his face with a white towel and studied the radar on his laptop. But he spent more time outside than in.

At noon, when Mr. Seidel asked for a bathroom break, his producer, Melody Taylor, joked, “Is that allowed, really?”

She added, “The last time I asked for 10 minutes for you, they were calling me in three.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=00b162b16ddb06a45d5f9ba08ff6da31

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