By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 12, 2010; C04
WRC (Channel 4), which typically leads local news ratings, all but ran away with the ratings for Wednesday's storm coverage.
Over the day-long period, the audience for the NBC-owned station was 31 percent larger than the next-most-watched station, WTTG (Channel 5). News4 led third-place WJLA (Channel 7) by 46 percent and fourth-place WUSA (Channel 9) by 62 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research figures.
The ratings results may help strengthen the negotiating position of Bob Ryan, WRC's chief meteorologist. Ryan is in the midst of renegotiating his contract with the station and is considering moving to WJLA to join its chief forecaster, Doug Hill.
Washington's four major broadcast stations preempted most of their regular programming as the first flakes began to fall Tuesday afternoon. The stations went live for about 14 hours on Wednesday, beginning their coverage at 4:30 a.m. and going until the networks' prime-time entertainment shows began.
All of the stations scattered reporters to dozens of snowy locales to report on road conditions and used a variety of tools in their coverage. Several reported via Skype, using the Internet-based phone service to transmit grainy but serviceable live video from remote or snowed-in areas. The stations also solicited photos and videos from viewers, featuring some of this material on the air and on their Web sites.
The inability of viewers to venture outside led many to tune in to local news programming, pushing ratings to extraordinary levels. News4's coverage between noon and 1 p.m. on Wednesday, for example, attracted an average of 224,000 viewers. A week earlier, during the same time period, the station's broadcast of "The Bonnie Hunt Show" averaged just 56,000 viewers. Fox5 recorded 144,000 viewers at noon during the storm, compared with just 28,000 for "The Wendy Williams Show" at the same time a week earlier.
But not every hour was a ratings bonanza. WTTG's prime-time news hour at 10 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, following "American Idol," was up just 4 percent over the same two nights the week before.
Combined with last weekend's storm, which also generated higher-than-usual ratings, Washington's double winter whammy was well timed for local stations. February is a sweeps month, during which ratings are used as a benchmark for setting advertising prices. The ratings boost from the adverse weather could translate into higher prices for airtime later in the year.