Media sellers pay the price for blackout

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The electrical failure that plunged the northeastern U.S. into darkness Aug. 14 cost TV companies millions in lost ad revenue and had New York's newspaper giants scrambling to publish their Friday issues.

Broadcast stations collectively lost $10 million to $20 million in advertising time as they were forced to replace scheduled programming with continuous all-news coverage, said broadcast buyers.

TV network executives also said that some Nielsen ratings were likely to be affected because TV sets across such a wide area were rendered inoperative by the emergency, especially in the key markets of New York, Detroit and Cleveland.

According to a Nielsen Media Research spokesman, an average of 13% of households in the national sample that it monitors was unavailable for Aug. 14 through Aug. 16, which will affect the data. "The data will be flagged indicating that it came from a sample that was skewed ," he said.

Media executives said local spot TV buyers have the most to lose, as local media buys do not offer ratings guarantees. "This will show up in the ratings for sure," said Rick Oster, VP-general sales manager for Adlink, Los Angeles. "We'll probably under-deliver a little bit," said Geoff Robison, senior VP-national broadcast for Palisades Media Group, Santa Monica, Calif .

All major TV networks aired around three hours of sustained news coverage with no commercials after the blackout hit at 4:11 p.m. EDT. By 8 p.m., all networks, except ABC, carried regularly scheduled programming. According to executives, ABC ran some, but not all, commercials that were regularly scheduled.

Likewise, NBC had commercials airing during prime time, but not its full load, according to a spokeswoman. Fox had about an hour of commercial-free coverage, taking the feed from its Fox News Channel.

printing press

Meanwhile, newspapers in affected cities faced their own challenges printing and distributing over the weekend. The blackout hit The New York Times' two major New York-area printing plants, in Edison, N.J., and College Point, N.Y. The Edison plant, which came back on in the evening Aug. 14, managed a standard run of around 750,000 for the New York area. Those copies, though, carried a note informing readers that the "Escapes," "Weekend" and "World Business" sections had to be distributed later in the weekend.

The College Point plant regained power Aug. 15, which enabled more normal production. The paper expected it might lose some ads in the Aug. 17 edition, particularly classified, owing to advertisers' own power-related difficulties.

The New York Post lost its Bronx plant when power disappeared until the evening of Aug. 15. That day, the paper distributed about 250,000 copies-less than half its average daily circulation-thanks to a hastily made printing arrangement with The Record in Hackensack, N.J.

Back-up generators kept the New York Daily News newsroom on 33rd Street afloat, said President Les Goodstein, but "internal power" issues were the reasons for a slimmed-down 48-page paper. Nonetheless, the paper distributed about a million copies of its Aug. 15 paper.

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