The unprecedented fury of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria caused power outages, flooding, and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. While this season’s aggressive hurricane season has broken weather-related records left and right, it’s also impacted something a little closer to our industry: television.
When Irma struck Florida as a Category 4 hurricane, it left 6 million people without power in Florida and drove others towards watching the weather news. The Weather Channel kicked into “severe mode,” broadcasting live around the clock for several days around each of the back-too-back storms. It was the only network to do so, which was reflected in its ratings.
The Weather Channel set their own records, an average of 3.29 million people watching on the Sunday when Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys, with 3.54 million tuning in during prime time. This broke The Weather Channel’s previous record, set just the day before, when 2.82 million watched Irma approach.
Previous to Saturday’s record, the network set its previous high water mark at 2.48 million, with Hurricane Irene coverage in 2011. Compare these numbers to the last week of July, where The Weather Channel averaged about 150,000 viewers a day.
Among the cable news channels, CNN led the pack with 527,000 households in primetime, with Fox News and MSNBC following behind with 260,000 and 195,000, respectively.
Networks that are not 24-hour news networks scrambled to report the weather – and chase ratings. NBC, CBS, and ABC all reworked their normally-quiet Sunday schedules to accommodate special wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Irene. NBC, CBS, and ABC all aired special broadcasts of “Today,” “Good Morning America,” and “CBS This Morning.”
On the same Sunday, The 69th annual Emmy Awards aired, with Stephen Colbert hosting the big event. While the awards show saw plenty of winners, including “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and “This is Us,” it also drew record low ratings. An average of 11.4 million viewers watched the Emmys, a 2.4% slump from last year’s hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, which drew a similarly low 11.3 million.
In the sports world, week one of “Sunday Night Football” also suffered; ratings were down 13 percent from last year. As ad Age said, “Just hours before the NFL kicked off its first Sunday of game-day action in 2017, Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm, plunging millions of Sunshine State residents into darkness and sending millions more scrambling to the Weather Channel and CNN.”
But wait, Irma wasn’t done. Not only were the networks affected, but the company reporting on the networks was also affected. Nielsen, which has a processing center in Oldsmar, just outside of Tampa was shut down, delaying ratings for a hotly-anticipated weekend of TV.