When a major storm hits the nation’s largest media market, not much more can be said that hasn’t already. Like Katrina seven years earlier, the true impact of Hurricane Sandy may not be felt for some time in the future, however it is possible that it could affect some aspects of broadcasting’s future.
The build-up to the storm was unprecedented as weather experts warned residents of the east coast more than a week in advance that a monster was brewing in the Atlantic and yet it wasn’t until at least 24 hours before it hit that anyone knew exactly where it would make landfall. The full scope of the 21st century media ecosphere was deployed as broadcasters, cable news networks and the Internet absorbed, analyzed and debated how public officials and coastal residents should prepare. In the end, many lives were saved because of these efforts, in contrast to a similar storm in 1938 that hit the area that claimed hundreds.
In the past, broadcasters have been accused of sensationalizing their coverage of hurricanes and other natural disasters in an attempt to boost ratings; I myself have been guilty of such criticisms. In this case, however, the threat was accurately characterized and once again our industry proved how important broadcasting is in an age of multiple media choices. For those consumers that chose to ignore broadcasters and other news outlets and rely on social media for storm updates, the content may have been more personal and immediate but how reliable was it? In one instance, a Twitter account, dubbed “comfortablysmug” was accused of broadcasting misleading tweets about the storm’s impact to unsuspecting followers, according to the Poynter Institute. In instances when public safety is of paramount concern, it behooves any media consumer to understand who is reliable and who is not; and broadcasters, while not perfect, have proved themselves to be among the most trusted. In contrast, many are on their own if they rely solely on the Internet.
But it’s also that very same IP technology that is allowing our industry to expand the choices we have in providing coverage to our viewers. As John Merli reports in this issue, broadcasters relied on IP-ENG to help fill in the gaps when other ENG technologies couldn’t. Hurricane Sandy provided an ideal testing environment for this emerging technology and in most cases, it performed flawlessly.
As for that other ubiquitous communications technology, cell service, the report card is not as positive. In addition to overwhelmed connections, towers were also damaged. Could mobile DTV play a part in improving reliability in that industry? Will the FCC take the events of the past month into account when assessing the impact of the upcoming spectrum auctions on the dependability of over-the-air broadcasting? One would hope so; let’s not rely on another event like Hurricane Sandy to drive that point home.