For the Love of Electricity, Television, and the Jersey Shore (not that one)

11-01-12

Unlike the usual TVB commentary, this is perhaps destined to be more personal than most. That’s because it’s being written remotely, on a computer that’s minimally powered by a portable generator, in an unheated home in northern New Jersey. And we’re among the lucky ones. Suffering without “real” electricity or the comforts of modern life are inconsequential compared to what’s happened to much of the rest of the Northeast during the past few days.

Or so I’m told.

The biggest impact in this house, along with millions of others across at least the New York DMA, is that this means we have no TV. There’s no heat – that’s fine, there’s a fireplace and plenty of wood. There’s no electricity – well, we can rely on the generator. But our lifeline to the outside world is down. And that’s the worst part in many homes.

Without being able to see what’s been going on, virtually in my own backyard, we’re blind, deaf, and dumb to all but our own neighborhood.

Sure, there are some supplemental media that we’ve been able to sporadically access – a smartphone app, when you can get a signal, the car radio when you’re sitting in your fifth two-hour gas line in the past two days, but that’s pretty much it. Our local broadcast TV stations have provided some information on their mobile sites, but the service hasn’t supported it much. And anytime that you need to rely upon Facebook for news, you know that you’re truly desperate for relevant news where you can get it.

We have research that proves that local broadcast television is the most trusted source of local news and information. And, according to FEMA Administrator, Craig Fugate, “ In times of emergency there is no more reliable source of information than that coming from local broadcasters. “ I’d argue that it’s the most desired as well.

So through these backup resources, I’m able to know just enough – but not enough. I know that my beloved Jersey Shore – the actual towns of Point Pleasant through to Seaside Heights – has been decimated. But there is no audio news that will tell me enough about it. I need my local news stations to show it to me. I need those reporters, many who have the same connections to these places as I do, to be there with me as I see it for myself through their eyes and cameras.

Without local television, I just can’t imagine it. But that’s all I can do until this is over and our minimally inconvenienced life goes back to normal in a few days.

Because we are the lucky ones through this. We lost power and some tree branches. Neighbors lost trees and parts of houses. Others lost entire homes, or family members. 75 people didn’t make it out of Hurricane Sandy, a Category 1 hurricane that hit our area directly.

To put it in perspective, Katrina was a Category 5. Over 1,800 people were lost in the New Orleans area in 2005.

And as we did then, we eventually had to answer some basic media business decisions.

On sports radio last night, they were discussing what the “right” decision would be for this weekend’s New York Marathon and for the opening game of the new arena for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. One of the callers brought up the point about TV contracts – that the game had to be played on schedule. This caller clearly had never heard the term “makegood”, as a game that airs to a local TV universe that’s probably down about two-thirds of its homes.

It won’t take long before we have to address issues like in-tab and trendability for the local ratings for each of the impacted DMAs that Sandy left in her wake. Some homes won’t be up for weeks, if not the entire month of November – a Sweeps month, don’t forget.

During Katrina, we weren’t asking these types of questions. We were addressing issues like when there would be enough homes in the DMA to make measurement even possible. Although even this was a second-tier problem, considering that it might be a long time before people had any interest or wherewithal to be a consumer again, once their rubble had been made into a home again.

There are certainly neighborhoods and towns that feel that way after Sandy. Many are probably in my own county, and surely in my own state. But I’m really not sure. I’m blind, deaf and dumb without my TV.

If there were ever a case to be made for broadcasters’ use of spectrum for Mobile DTV this would be it. With smart phones and tablets equipped to receive TV stations’ over-the-air signals, millions could have had handheld TV sets that didn’t rely on cell towers or data plans to watch their local TV stations. Along with my generator and flashlight, I’ll be sure to have a Mobile DTV device at the ready next time.


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