Happiness is a Warm TV

This week’s big snow meant big ratings for local TV news stations

WRAL anchors Debra Morgan and Gerald Owens talk to chief meteorologist Greg Fishel during Wednesday’s snow coverage.
WRAL anchors Debra Morgan and Gerald Owens talk to chief meteorologist Greg Fishel during Wednesday’s snow coverage. Courtesy of WRAL

This week’s big snow event in the Triangle translated into big ratings for local TV news stations.

With virtually everyone over sledding age stuck inside in front of the TV on Wednesday – and all local stations going wall-to-wall with storm coverage – ratings spiked across the board.

Even though the snow arrived later than anticipated Wednesday, morning news broadcasts started at 4 a.m., 30 minutes earlier than usual. All stations showed ratings higher than their normal averages, with WRAL coming out on top.

At 6 a.m., WRAL was two ratings points higher for households than WTVD, which typically leads in mornings, and about three points higher than WRAL’s normal average. The numbers for all stations rose throughout the day.

At 9 a.m., WRAL and WTVD each had slightly over an 11 rating, and WNCN hit almost 4, a high point for the station that it hit again at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

WRAL had a sizeable lead at noon and held the lead all day, peaking at 6 p.m. with a whopping 19 rating. WRAL’s average rating for 6 p.m. is 8.5. WTVD had a 10.6 at 6 p.m., more than four points higher than its average. WNCN checked in with almost 3, a point higher than its average.

Each ratings point represents the percentage of households with TV sets in the market tuned in to that station. One point equals 11,331 households, with Nielsen assuming 2.5 people per household.

Sure, the stations had a bit of a captive audience. But in this time of Netflix and DVRs and hundreds of cable channels, that’s not the whole story.

People just really like snow coverage. And the stations know that.

Each station had crews out in the field, spread across the viewing area. (Fayetteville, a big part of WTVD’s viewership, didn’t get any snow until late in the afternoon on Wednesday.) Reporters drove the roads with dash cams, staked out near normally busy intersections, showed measurements of mounting snow totals and even built snowmen on camera.

Back in the studios, more reporters and meteorologists and producers worked on-camera and behind the scenes.

WRAL vice president and general manager Steve Hammel said it’s important to the station to help viewers keep safe.

“We take that mission seriously providing the latest weather, road conditions and school closings,” Hammel said. “Our team of meteorologists, headed by chief meteorologist Greg Fishel, worked round the clock to finetune the forecasts. I am pleased that our loyal viewers know to count on our coverage when winter weather hits.”

Caroline Welch, the president and general manager at WTVD, said the safety of viewers is why the station goes all out in its coverage.

“Nothing is more important than the well-being and safety of our community, which is why we go wall-to-wall on every screen for storms like this,” said Welch. “It’s not just the snow, but the aftermath – everything from road conditions to power outages to freezing pipes. If we can alert people to stay off the roads, or to leave their water running if their pipes are in danger of freezing, that’s our number one concern and number one job – to keep people informed and safe.”

WNCN – which recently added two new meteorologists to its weather crew – had its entire five-person weather team working throughout the day Wednesday. And while the station didn’t pull down the monster numbers that WRAL saw, news director Ed Trauschke was pleased with the station’s gains.

“Everybody knows weather is the most important thing we do,” said Trauschke. “We’re going to be aggressive with weather – more aggressive than ever before. Viewers are counting on us to keep them safe. We’ve spent the last several months trying to build on this very strong team we have, and weather is an example of that.

“(Wednesday’s) ratings are a big win for this station,” Trauschke said. “This station is working harder every day to be more competitive, and to have almost a 4 at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and have 2s and 2.5 in the afternoon, that’s a big deal for this TV station.”

Brooke Cain: 919-829-4579, @brookecain