This past weekend, as Hurricane Irene made her way up the Eastern Seaboard from North Carolina through New England, millions of residents—the ones with power, at least—turned to local and national news to keep up with the storm’s path, while others, safely out of harm’s way, tuned in for a weekend’s worth of entertainment.
According to The New York Times, all of the major TV networks extended news programming hours over the weekend to bring viewers feat-inducing images of wind-blown reporters and rising floodwaters. Many people accused the networks of over-hyping the storm—and in some places largely spared by the storm’s wrath, the feeling might have been justified—but, as NBC’s Chuck Scarborough admitted on air Sunday, “We’re in the news business. We deal in doom.”
Since the weekend’s big event happened to be a natural disaster, the Weather Channel became a prime destination. Unsurprisingly, the channel’s ratings are never higher than when a hurricane is making landfall, according to the Times: “Like Home Depot selling plywood for windows or Wal-Mart selling jugs of water, the Weather Channel sells coverage of weather-related disasters."
As anyone who watched the NBC-owned network this past weekend probably noticed, it had no trouble selling storm-related ad spots, from home improvement stores to insurance companies urging customers to prepare for the worst (maybe a little too late for viewers whose houses were already being pounded by branches).
Other commercials urged viewers to “come back” to the Weather Channel after the storm was over. But as the cleanup begins, most people are probably hoping that they don’t have a need to watch the Weather Channel for a long time.