"For the past three months you'd have to wonder if anything could ever pre-empt the O.J. Simpson trial. Well, how about a bomb in Oklahoma City," said Steven Farella, exec VP-director of media services at Jordan McGrath Case & Taylor, New York.
On April 19 and 20, CNN pre-empted all of its Simpson coverage with coverage of the Oklahoma bombing. The cable network scored a 2.6 24-hour Nielsen rating for April 19, compared with its average 24-hour rating for 1994 of 0.6. CNN's coverage peaked with a 6.4 rating from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. (ET), which is significantly higher than for other recent tragedies: a 4.3 rating for the Jan. 17, 1994, Los Angeles earthquake and a 3.6 rating for the Feb. 27, 1993, World Trade Center bombing.
Network ratings were up about 20% during Wednesday morning coverage, with ABC drawing a 6.3 rating and 20 share during Wednesday's midday coverage according to Nielsen overnight meters, compared to about a 5.9/18 for CBS and a 5.3/17 for NBC.
Such a tragic, breaking news story also keeps the network sales departments hopping.
"You get a tragedy like that, and the networks are calling agencies all around the country asking if they want to keep their ads in there or move them out. The answer is very easy in a buyers market, but it was a very difficult question" April 19, Mr. Farella said. "We're in a very tight marketplace, particularly for daytime advertisers and that's complicating things."
At press time, a CNN spokesman said it was impossible to calculate the exact amount of ad time pre-empted.
In Oklahoma City, the Big 3 affiliates went without commercials for more than 24 hours each. Executives at one station shrugged off questions about lost ad revenues as well as huge amounts of staff overtime.
"We haven't even started to calculate it yet," said Jerry Dalrymple, exec VP-director of operations at KWTV, the local CBS affiliate.
Dennis DeMichele, general manager of WKY-AM, a news-talk radio station owned by Gaylord Broadcasting Co., said his station dropped all advertising and talk show programming following the bombing and sent news crews to the scene for live coverage. At mid-morning April 20, most programming was somewhat back to normal and ads were once again being aired.
Mr. DeMichele said he will provide make good spots for advertisers whose message failed to make it on the air.
"We won't lose a lot of money, because our advertisers know how important [April 19] was to Oklahoma City," he said.
At the Daily Oklahoman, Assistant Managing Editor Mike Shannon said an extra run of 50,000 editions was on the streets April 20 by dawn and sold out by 9 a.m.
Online services also saw a usage increase.
Tiny Internet Oklahoma, a 4-month-old Internet access provider, found itself in the middle of a national tragedy and, at the same time, an unavoidable opportunity.
Within hours after the bombing, Internet Oklahoma had opened a home page on the World Wide Web listing survivors' names and hospital phone numbers and excerpts of news stories. Internet users with video capability could download broadcast news stories from a local TV station. The site recorded 12,000 "hits"-the measurement tool of the Web-within 24 hours.
America Online gathered up a file of wire stories and photos and created 15 chat rooms.
"People seem much more compassionate now," a CompuServe spokeswoman said. "There's almost a feeling across the nation of victimization."M
Contributing to this story: Jon Lafayette of Electronic Media, Debra Aho Williamson and Alan Salomon.