TV in N.Y. not yet at full speed

Oct 1, 2001  •  Post A Comment

More than two weeks after the World Trade Center towers-and the main transmitters of most New York broadcasters-were toppled by terrorists, local stations were still trying to get up to full power and were deciding whether they should add a qualifier to their Nielsen ratings in the October book.

“What we now have to do here is analyze what we have to do,” said Jim Clayton, the executive in charge of the new duopoly of Fox flagship WNYW-TV and UPN affiliate WWOR-TV.
Both stations lost their main transmitters on Sept. 11 and are broadcasting at low power from the Empire State Building. Mr. Clayton said his hope is to boost the power to an “intermediate” level for WNYW within the next week or so and then to do the same for WWOR.
“We’ll be stepping them up in stages,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s going to take a few months before we are able to replicate what we had.”
That’s true for most stations in the New York market, so one of the questions that has to be answered by early this week is whether to put a “T,” indicating technical problems, on their Nielsen Media Research ratings for the October book that began Sept. 27. Stations in some 25 major markets use the October book to get a quick snapshot of early-season demos.
The “T” began appearing on WNYW’s and WWOR’s Nielsen data effective last Thursday.
On Friday morning, WPIX-TV General Manager Betty Ellen Berlamino still had not decided whether to use the “T.” For one thing, she said, it was still unclear how far the station’s temporary antenna on a tower shared in Alpine, N.J., some 10 miles north of the George Washington Bridge, was reaching. “Some accounts have us up to as much as 95 percent coverage,” she said.
“You could have a great debate with yourself,” she said, about the need to point out to ad buyers in New York what they know all too well: Most local broadcasters’ signals are not at 100 percent and won’t be for some time.
WNBC-TV, which had boosted its transmitter at Alpine from 6 kilowatts to 22 kilowatts and is reminding viewers how to turn rooftop antennas to pick up a clearer signal, is not going to put a “T” on any portion of its October book. “Our overall delivery is so strong that we don’t need to flag these weeks as different,” a WNBC spokeswoman said.
Station sources said Nielsen notified stations Sept. 26 about how it is going to apply the policy.
Because many people were observing the Yom Kippur holiday last Thursday, “We haven’t had a chance to sit down and discuss it,” said Pat Liguori, research director at WABC-TV, which also is operating at low power from the Alpine tower.
“Our concern is that the sample reflects the composition of the marketplace,” said Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus. He noted that Nielsen is providing additional analyses to help stations assess the impact of the signal disruption in the market, in which upward of 80 percent of the homes receive TV via cable or satellite.
There will be no “T” in the October book for WCBS-TV, the only English-language station that had a transmitter at the Empire State Building on Sept. 11. WCBS continued to reap the ratings benefits of having been the only station from which many New Yorkers could get their news in the early days following the attack.
As of last Thursday, the CBS flagship-which just last month was languishing at the bottom of the rankings in many key time slots-was ranked No. 1 or No. 2 against all competition with most of its newscasts.
Throughout last week, when other stations had resumed normal programming patterns, WCBS was still doing several hours a day of extra news programming, including 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays (pre-empting “Martha Stewart Living”), 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. (pre-empting “Crossing Over With John Edward”) and extending into prime access, as well as weekend morning newscasts.

WCBS plans to put “Martha Stewart” back on the air at 9 a.m. this week but to stick with the extra newscast at 3 p.m.. Still to be decided Friday afternoon was whether the extra newscasts in access would continue.
A stickier decision still to come: When it might be appropriate to put “John Edward,” which deals with communication with the dead, on the air in a city where thousands of victims are still unaccounted for. “We’re evaluating the situation on a day-to-day basis,” the WCBS spokeswoman said.
Also still to come are decisions by New York’s station executives about where to position permanent transmitters and backups, which stations may now decide have to be in separate locations. “There are a lot of things we need to examine going forward,” Mr. Clayton said.
One source said the hope of the most-affected stations is to have omnidirectional antennas in position in time for the November sweeps.
Beyond that, “We all need to add height” to make signals go farther, said Ms. Berlamino, who was heartened to report, “We had a pretty good week” with new advertising business, as advertisers appeared to heed officials’ advice to get back to life and business as usual.