Hurricane Ida roared into Louisiana on Aug. 29, knocking out power to all of New Orleans. During the storm’s approach, landfall and immediate aftermath, WWL, Tegna’s CBS affiliate there, measured more than 15 million video plays on its YouTube channel alone.
Exactly 16 years after Katrina made landfall in southern Louisiana on Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Ida came ashore and slashed the coast with sustained winds of 150 mph, knocking out power to all of New Orleans.
WWL, Tegna’s CBS affiliate there, broadcast wall-to-wall for 57 continuous hours during the storm’s approach, landfall and immediate aftermath, the only local station to continue broadcasting through the storm without interruption, according to WWL.
“At some point, everybody except us, lost their broadcast signal for various reasons and lengths of time during that period,” says Candace Harralson, WWL’s marketing director since January.
“We thought being on that amount of time was important for viewers to get all aspects of the story that they wanted,” says Tod Smith, WWL’s general manager.
It’s not easy to know how many people were watching WWL’s linear broadcast coverage, but between Aug. 26 and Sept. 7 WWL’s YouTube page measured 15,176,997 video plays.
The station did 7 million video views of live coverage and stories on their app, mobile web/laptop/tablet plus YouTube on Aug. 29 alone.
“On our YouTube page, people could watch both individual videos and live stream coverage,” Harralson says. “Our live coverage could be viewed on our mobile app, website, Roku app, Fire TV app and Facebook Live.”
According to Harralson, during that same period, WWL’s mobile app had 189,752 unique users and 10,616,037 screen views. There were 2,775,965 unique users and 12,501,614 page views on WWL’s website, mobile web, desktop and tablet. Crossplatform video plays, which includes Roku and FireTV, were 3,861,997, and WWL’s Facebook page had 6.66 million views on owned videos with 458,205 total interactions.
Smith says 16 years ago during Katrina, he evacuated to Dallas where, through a fluke, he could pick up WWL’s signal, “and that was revolutionary.”
“Today, the world has evolved and changed,” Smith says. “I bring my tablet, my mobile device, my phone and I get it wherever I am.”
Harralson says viewers watching WWL’s YouTube page could see exactly what the station was broadcasting on TV, but at times, could tune to an additional live stream to see a WWL photographer and reporter driving around in different neighborhoods during the storm in WWL’s mobile weather vehicle.
“Now there’s another little wave of the future,” Harralson says.
Although WWL’s YouTube page seemed to be the most popular source for live streaming coverage, Harralson says the station had a huge jump on “our Roku and Fire stick TV apps. We had a 20% jump in downloads of those apps over the course of this storm.”
Harralson says the station had a planned, pre-storm marketing campaign ready to roll. After the storm, the station created proof of brand spots that showcased WWL’s news content.
The day before IDA hit, WWL partnered with United Way of South East Louisiana to establish a relief fund drive, using New Orleans Saints players in the creative.
“In the first 2 ½ weeks of the fund, it reached $1 million,” Harralson says. “This relief fund has already distributed $50,000 to seven area parishes to assist with immediate, hyper-local response efforts. The United Way of SELA has also organized donation drives and pop-up distribution sites across the area so people can get hot meals, water, cleaning and rebuilding supplies. And the relief efforts won’t stop at recovery, it will continue into the long rebuilding process.”
Smith says WWL used the station’s website to disseminate specific information simply. So there were banners for each parish, “so that if you were interested in what was going on in your particular parish or your neighborhood, that was where you went,” Smith says.
In addition, the website started #OpenNOLA, where businesses could send information to tell users they were open, and a phone-in help desk, for people to call and ask questions, Smith says.
These features were based on suggestions made by viewers and users, “people who are actually using the product and telling you, hey you guys need to do this,” Smith says.
Smith says 40 people from other Tegna stations came to WWL to help. The station had hotel rooms, but when the city lost power, everyone stayed at the station because it had generators, he says.
“My marketing team rode out the storm here with the news people,” Harralson says. “We slept in our offices for eight days. We created multilingual social videos for generator safety and we created content for the news team,” she says.
Smith says people who live in the hard-hit outlying areas away from the city like Belle Chase, Laplace, Houma and Grand Isle fear they will be forgotten.
“We are not going to forget them. We are going to continue to tell these stories because it will help,” Smith says.
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