WISH-TV blows away rivals in storm-coverage ratings

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WTHR-TV Channel 13 enjoyed a spike in its already-No. 1 evening newscast ratings in September when bringing onboard former WISH-TV Channel 8 meteorologist Angela Buchman.

But it was WISH and its weather team led by Buchman’s replacement—Robb Ellis—that reaped the ratings updraft during Sunday’s tornado outbreak in Indiana.

WISH averaged a 13.5 rating in the period roughly between 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. during which 23 tornadoes raked Indiana, versus an average 10.9 for WXIN-TV Fox59 and a 9 rating for WTHR. WRTV-TV Channel 6 averaged 4.5. A ratings point is equal to 1 percent of the total TV-equipped households in a market.

What isn't clear is to what extent network sports events airing in the background during the weather coverage drew viewer eyeballs to each station.

wish weather truck tornado 15colA viewer snapped a photo of a tornado near Lebanon bearing down on a WISH-TV truck (center right). (Image courtesy WISH-TV)

WISH was carrying bits and pieces of the NFL's Ravens-Bears game, while Fox59 had parts of the Redskins-Eagles battle. WTHR had been airing the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix.

“TV news ratings always have been powerfully influenced by the programming leading into and out of a newscast. In this case, I don’t think we can dismiss the program running in the background, either,” said Phil Bremen, associate professor and news sequence chair at Ball State University’s Department of Telecommunications.

Bremen, a former TV newsman, said his sense was that “all the Indianapolis news stations did a dedicated and impressive job” keeping their viewers apprised of Sunday’s severe weather. “Other viewers who were sampling the competing coverage may have had the same perception. It may have been the Chicago Bears that tipped the scales.”

Whatever the case, WISH earned bragging rights. WISH News Director Steve Bray was quick to point out after hiring Ellis earlier this year that weather wasn’t just about one, popular meteorologist—referring to Buchman—but was a “blend of personality and the science behind it.”

Ellis worked tornadoes and hurricanes at Fox and NBC affiliates in Wilmington, N.C. and previously was a climate research scientist for North and South Carolina.

To be sure, Ellis and other WISH meteorologists on Sunday reveled in using their latest analytical software that can slice and dice a radar feed like a Ronco Veg-O-Matic can divy a cucumber.

There was, for example, the “debris ball” tool that allowed WISH to show viewers places where objects swirling in the air were larger than raindrops, such as aloft building materials.

“One of the things about Robb is he stays up on the technology,” said Bray, himself a meteorologist.

WISH, like most of the local stations, brought in news anchors and dispatched reporters to the field to make the most of newer technology such as cellular-based video units. These consist of a backpack loaded with a wireless phone network capable of transmitting high-definition video.

The units allowed videographers to get closer to the action and transmit, despite high winds and lightning that would have made it hazardous to raise the microwave mast on a news truck to beam back the action.

Despite that, WISH’s field crew almost became part of the story when a tornado formed just behind one of its video trucks barreling down a highway, near Lebanon. Bray said the station planned well in advance to position crews out of harm’s way, in the southwest corner of storms. But the funnel cloud apparently didn’t get the memo.

The drama wasn’t limited to the field, as the station also used a handheld camera in the studio to capture its meteorologists at their desks. Bray said the idea was “to bring the viewer into the weather center.” It was dramatic, although some viewers may have needed Dramamine.

Some stations jumped in on the precarious weather situation early in the day. WRTV-TV Channel 6 started a dedicated broadcast on the weather at around 11:30 a.m. Sunday, on its 6.2 digital channel known as HTSN.

Like many stations, WRTV had been warning earlier in the week that Mother Nature could threaten Indiana on Sunday afternoon.

Its lead meteorologist, Kevin Gregory, “called me in the middle of the day on Saturday and expressed his concerns about [the need to] alert viewers,” said Terri Cope-Walton, news director for WRTV. She said Gregory couldn’t sleep and wound up coming to the station on Saturday night.

WRTV also fired up its new media team a day ahead of the storms, posting on Facebook that the situation could become dangerous Sunday and advising people to share the news, said Glen Hale, director of new media at WRTV.

Hale’s reporters sat in the station’s control room and updated digital platforms during the coverage—as well as passing to the television side some images sent in by viewers over their phones.

WRTV also funneled alerts and updates through its Storm Shield app. From an audience standpoint, “we’ve had more people on our digital platform than we’ve ever had,” Hale said of the storm coverage.

“This was also a digital outreach of a storm to cover,” agreed Kathy Hostetter, news director of WTHR.

Although television stations ultimately are measured by ratings, WTHR racked up strong digital audience that did everything from logging in to view the weather radar to watching live streams of the station’s storm coverage, Hostetter added.

WTHR’s website for a while included a spoofed photo submitted by a viewer of a tornado bearing down on Lafayette, according to the media blog TVSpy. Not only was the ominous funnel cloud a fake but so were faint images of a UFO hovering above a church steeple and Bigfoot strolling down a sidewalk. TVSpy quoted Hostetter as saying the spoofed photo was later pulled from the station’s photo archives.

The storms were the first big test for WTHR’s reconstituted weather team. Beside the recently arrived Buchman is newcomer Kelly Greene and full-time status for Sean Ash, a former WISH meteorologist who had appeared occasionally on WTHR. They joined regulars Chuck Lofton and Nicole Misencik.

Station officials for Fox59 did not provide details on its coverage before IBJ deadline.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story did not specify that the spoofed photo of a tornado in Lafayette only appeared in a WTHR online gallery, not during a broadcast.


  • Just Say No To WTHR
    I never watch Channel Six for news but I found their coverage of the storms to be refreshing. They actually gave me pertinent information in a timely manner. I only stumbled upon them after deciding that three requests for "pix posted to our facebook page -- if you can safely do so" by the idiots at 13. I figure that when it's that bad I need to watch someone who can tell me something I need to know and not ask me to help them boost their social media agenda. Very classy WTHR!
  • WISH-TV coverage
    Would Channel 8 have given the storm the same coverage had they been doing a Colts game that day?
  • WISH for the Win
    We almost exclusively watch WTHR for news/weather, but on Sunday as the tornado sirens were wailing we flipped between all 4 channels. We settled on WTHR because they were offering the best information, and we felt secure they were giving us what we needed to know to stay safe. I found it funny that during the height of the storms WTHR tweeted to follow @angelabuchman for the latest storm news. However, she hadn't tweeted in over 2 hours.
  • WRTV best
    WRTV was on it first and did the best job. WISH benefitted from the NFL.
  • Nothing to do with weather
    Wish TV and their "technology" is a joke. Took more than an hour and a half to get into split screen coverage so people could enjoy football. The ratings had EVERYTHING to do with the fact the Bears were on this channel. Same would have been true if it was during a Colts game (although, the "coverage" would have not been as in depth.). I "wish" WISH TV would go away.
  • Bears
    It had to do with the Chicago Bears. Second most popular football team in Indianapolis and they are rarely on TV here. When they are on, ratings are high for them.
  • Weather
    Channel 8 did display an impressive amount of technological superiority; so what. I could have stood on my front porch and told you this was a bad storm. Then on the 11:00 newscast the WISH weather folks did a victory lap and spiked the ball about how good there coverage was. If you want to impress me, is going to be sunning or rain today? When you get that correct I'll be impressed.
  • Great Job By All
    Like she said, all the stations did a good job and would've provided you with any info that you needed. It shouldn't come down to a personality or college degree contest- like Sgt. Friday said on Dragnet; "Just the Facts"
  • Sunday Weather
    I doubt that WISH ratings were influenced much by the Bears game as they were in the midst of a nearly 2 hour weather delay. I won't watch Channel 13 anymore because they got rid of Chris Wright in favor of the Girl of the Day. I WAS influenced to watch FOX 59 because they also put their football game in a small box so that I could continue to follow something besides the weather.
  • I agree (kind of)
    Rob Ellis is the best weatherman on TV but Paul Poteet is the best weatherman in the city.
  • weather coverage
    Actually, most of the coverage on Sunday could have been done with crawls and occasional cut-ins during natural breaks during the games (end of quarter, halftime, change of possession, etc.) Heaven help us the next time severe weather approaches; all of the stations will now feel their main purpose is to provide us with beginning to end storm coverage. You want proof? Has anyone noticed how now, no matter what the weather is, most newscasts start off with the weather? Finally, would Channel 8 have provided the same amount of coverage had this occurred during a Colts game?
  • Too much droning
    Wish's performance with the weather was nice coverage and seemed very credible however it never stopped- just droned on and on. Split the screen and let us be able to decide which sound to listen to between the split screen. I had no interest in hearing about the possibilities of every small town being in natures way. Due to Directv contractual rights, I was stuck with the weather instead of the Bears game. I switched to Fox and other games in the NFL Directv package but couldn't get the Bears game. Left a bad taste in my mouth for WISH.
  • Bears had a huge impact
    If you monitored Twitter during the storm broadcast by WISH, you would see that the Bears fans were begging WISH to split the screen like WXIN did - so they could at least see the game during the storm coverage. I am sure many were tuned in to see the Bears when they came back on, thus the huge ratings. However, I understand if you were in the storm's path, you would be glued to whoever you prefer to watch for weather coverage.
  • Multi-task
    I personally liked the way Fox 59 handled the coverage. A Picture in picture decision. The game was silent in the lower right you could glance at. I flipped from WISH when I realized how Fox was handling it.
  • WISH - Rob Ellis
    I have always been a Channel 13 viewer for the weather until the latest change in staff. I watched WISH exclusively for the storm warning and damage coverage and it had nothing to do with what was supposed to be on in that time frame, it was specifically because of Rob Ellis and the rest of his staff of weather people that I stayed with that station. Their coverage was exceptional and I felt they knew more about what was going on around the area. Keep up the good work WISH.
  • WISH
    I agree, Robb Ellis did a terrific job on Sunday. I am quickly concluding that he is the best weatherman in the city. Sean Ash is a close second. Angela Buchman can go back to Lafayette. Channel 13 did a dirty trick on Chris Wright. Thanks to Channel 8 for Robb Ellis.
  • Robb
    Robb Ellis about 2 months ago became my favorite weather person in the city. I think he is excellent.
    • all the lead-in
      Shouldn't surprise anyone that the station carrying bits and pieces of a Bears game had more viewers than the station carrying the Grand Prix. Sunday afternoons during the fall/early winter are football dominated. People watching the Bears and hoping to see more of the game will stick w/WISH. Would be interesting to see of those who tuned in to storm coverage, which station did they tune in to? To my knowledge, this info isn't available - so while the ratings are known, they really are meaningless.
    • Not Impressed With Blondie
      It's really a shame that WTHR constructively fired Chris Wright in favor of Buchman, who can't even pronounce the word "degrees". In fact, she has a touch of that Marlene Dietrich speech impediment in pronouncing "r". I think it's poetic justice that WISH beat WTHR in ratings when the first big storm hit after blondie's debut.
    • Bravo WISH!
      Living halfway between tornado hits north of Carmel...we were glued to WISH. Flipped around and felt WISH was the most clear on the current weather condition. The maps were also easier to understand (and he explained very well). Excellent Job!
    • Tornado
      I knew I saw those UFOs. I DDR that photo and upon closer examination with magnifation, you can see my home.
    • Tacky
      I noticed that WTHR hasn't wasted any time getting out a commercial touting their star meteorologist's coverage of the storms. How tacky
    • Storm coverage
      I thought all the stations did a great job on the storm coverage but spent most of my time watching WISH because I thought Robb Ellis especially was so professional and thorough. Really appreciate feeling like I was getting facts, not conjecture.

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