Broadcasters follow evacuee audience via Internet streams

With facilities destroyed, damaged or still under water, Gulf Coast broadcasters struggled last week to continue reporting the Katrina disaster while scrambling to map out plans for the coming months.

As media outlets endured the dangerous chaotic days of one of the nation’s largest natural disasters, local broadcasters turned to alternative facilities as they settled in for an uncertain future.

The single New Orleans television station to stay on-air live throughout the disaster was CBS affiliate WWL-TV, owned by Belo Corp. (To find out more about how this station stayed on-air, read Amid New Orleans disaster, locals turn to Internet for news.) This was due to advance arrangements the station had with LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication to use its facilities in Baton Rouge, LA.

When WWL’s own facilities on Rampart Street in the French Quarter had to be evacuated, WWL personnel continued the station’s live coverage using the LSU facilities as well as WWL’s emergency broadcast facility at its transmitter site in Gretna, LA. WWL has since shifted its broadcasts to the WPBL studios in Baton Rouge.

As with other area broadcasters, WWL has been video streaming its hurricane coverage on the station’s Web site at Belo said the Web site has experienced “a tremendous surge” in usage since Katrina hit, with more than 10.2 million page views, 562,000-plus unique users, and 1.3 million total online sessions to its live video streaming broadcasts on its peak day, Tuesday, Aug. 30.

The Internet became an especially important distribution outlet for New Orleans’ broadcasters since few of their city-based viewers were able to get traditional television reception in the disaster area. As the city’s refugees became more widely dispersed to other parts of the country, the Web sites offered a way to stay in touch with local events.

NBC affiliate WDSU-TV, Louisiana’s first TV station in 1948, turned to the Web early in the disaster. David J. Barrett, president and CEO of Hearst-Argyle Television, the station’s owner, said the station utilized the company’s resources at WAPT-TV, the ABC affiliate in Jackson, MS, and WESH-TV, the NBC affiliate in Orlando. served more than 15 million page views, and nearly 2 million video streams of the station’s live coverage of the disaster. The Internet Broadcasting network of Web sites throughout the country, of which is a member, recorded nearly 150 million page views and more than 4 million live streams.

WDSU returned to on-air service last week through an arrangement to use the transmission facilities of Paxson-owned New Orleans television station WPXL-TV, Channel 49.

There was also a surge in Internet-based viewers for CNN, whose executives reported triple’s previous online viewing record, set on the day of the London subway bombings in July. has been providing free video clips online since June 20. For the preceding three years, the site charged a subscription fee. Besides posting its own video clips, made available amateur video from viewers.

Mitch Gelman, the CNN site’s executive producer said people have more digital cameras and DVD recorders, so he is getting more digital media from the viewing audience.

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