[opendtv] Television for disaster coverage

  • From: Mark Schubin <tvmark@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Open DTV Forum <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 26 Dec 2005 12:20:14 -0500

Happy Boxing Day!

This will be largely a rehash of things that have appeared here 
previously, but I thought it might be worth reiterating them.

- OTA TV vs. cable and satellite TV - When the 9/11 attacks happened, 
the TV transmission facilities on the World Trade Center were destroyed, 
but, except for a very brief interruption of one of the least viewed 
station's signals, cable and satellite carriage of all stations 
continued.  Only WCBS-TV had a working transmitter in the Empire State 
Building (same as after the first World Trade Center attack 8.5 years 
earlier), so they were the only station receivable off-air via antenna.  
WCBS-TV's ratings went up, and the other stations' went down, until the 
other stations got back on the air.  I think the only conclusion that 
can be drawn is that the increased ratings were due to off-air viewers 
using antennas.

- Radio news vs. TV news -

     - Power failures - There is no question that radio is more likely 
than TV to be receivable during a power failure.  There are many 
battery-operated TVs and many TV-sound radios (many models of the latter 
are now being sold specifically for disasters), but their numbers pale 
by comparison with portable radios.  Distasters, however, are not 
necessarily accompanied by power failures.  When the 9/11 attacks 
occurred, almost all of the New York market continued to be served with 
electric power.  The same was true of our recent transit strike and the 
recent heavy northeast snowstorm.

     - News departments - Fewer than half (but not too much fewer than 
half) of U.S. TV stations have news departments.  A MUCH smaller 
percentage of U.S. radio stations do.  I have taken long drives across 
stretches of the U.S. without being able to find any news on the car radio.

     - Destroyed transmission facilities - When a hurricane knocks down 
towers or floods transmitters, the public searches for whatever they can 
get.  In some cases, that might be TV rather than radio.  I have been at 
my relatives' home in rural Colorado when weather has knocked out all of 
the radio translators -- and phone and Internet service -- but not the 
TV translator.  At those times, we watch TV to find out what's going on.

     - Pictures - TV screens can present information beyond what a 
commentator says.  The projected path of a hurricane or tornado is 
easily seen instantly on a map.  A list of bridge closings can be 
presented as a rolling or crawling graphic.
     After 9/11, a local political candidate here in New York set up a 
TV tuned to WCBS-TV outside his campaign office and placed rows of 
folding chairs in front of it.  The chairs were soon filled, even though 
the TV offered nothing TV viewers couldn't get at home.  I can think of 
more than one possible explanation.  Maybe people sought a sense of 
community.  But maybe people who normally get their news from newspapers 
or radio (and didn't even own a TV) felt a need to watch TV during the 
disaster.  Other than owning a TV, I am one of the latter.

Personally, I get most of my local news from the three daily and three 
weekly local newspapers I read.  Secondarily, I get news from a 
non-commercial radio news station, which, despite a sizable news 
department, usually rehashes stories from The New York Times (and which, 
after the post-transit-strike mediator-requested media blackout of the 
continuing negotiations, announced that we should "stay tuned for 
complete coverage of the media blackout").  Under normal circumstances, 
I do not watch TV news.

That makes me an anomalous American.  Most Americans prefer to get their 
local news via TV  -- even Americans who prefer to get national and 
international news via the Internet, newspapers, or other sources.  But 
when disasters happen even I turn to TV.

Disasters are not normal circumstances.  Neither are elections.  I tune 
to some form of TV (sometimes our local cable-news channel, NY1) to 
watch the results at the bottom of the screen.  I can quickly discover 
the results I want to know about long before radio commentators get to 
them (IF they ever bother to cover a local state-assembly or 
city-council district race).

Sorry for the rehash, but it seemed necessary in view of recent posts.


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