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A car navigates a snowy road: Local news can be invaluable during winter storms.

Why We Need Local News, Especially During the Winter Months

January 26th, 2017   ||    by Todd Wasserman

When the weather gets rough in the winter, viewers often turn to local news. Even in this Internet-saturated media climate, viewers know the info they get from TV news usually comes faster than online sources. And while The Weather Channel might offer a more in-depth view of a storm, local news is where you go to hear about school closings and other local events that will have a big impact on your day.

For those who grew up in warmer parts of the country, this might be an alien concept. In areas susceptible to blizzards and snowstorms in the winter, it’s a rite of passage to tune in to local news when a snowstorm hits to hear if your school is closed that day. As comedian Matt Cooper recalled in Slate, “It was a beautiful thing if you were a kid growing up in New Jersey, as I did: They canceled school if there was too much snow on the ground, leaving you a day to sled, drink cocoa, or profiteer by shoveling driveways.”

The Internet—and even cable TV—haven’t changed that.

Winterizing the News

Recent proof came in January 2016, when Winter Storm Jonas bore down on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, dumping as much as three feet of snow in some areas. In an analysis of the storm’s news coverage, the Television Bureau of Advertising found viewers preferred local TV news coverage over cable news.

In a press release, TVB President and CEO Steve Lanzano said that local TV provided more relevant information than cable news. “When it comes to important news, viewers count on local broadcast TV for up-to-the minute, potentially life-saving information,” he said.

Local Leaves Cable Out in the Cold

The TVB found in the four major markets that faced the blizzard—Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Washington, D.C.—ratings among 25-54-year-olds trounced those of cable news. In Philadelphia, for instance, the average rating was a 2.9 for local news versus 0.3 for cable. In Baltimore, local drew a 2.0 versus 0.4 for cable.

During that storm, many stations offered wall-to-wall coverage to keep up with cable and the TV networks. For its part, The Weather Channel threw all of its resources at the storm and dispatched nine meteorologists to cover it, according to Adweek blog TVNewser. Afterwards, The Weather Company (parent company of The Weather Channel) reported that 37 million people tuned in to its storm coverage.

Bundle Up, Advertisers

For local TV advertisers, a buy during the height of winter can be amplified if there’s a big storm. But given the unpredictability of such events, advertisers would be better off viewing such storm coverage as a value-add rather than a must-have. Otherwise, they’ll find themselves at the mercy of the weather.

For advertisers hoping for a blizzard boost this year, the Farmer’s Almanac also offers hope, calling for a “frigid February” with lots of snow, at least in the Northeast.

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