- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 26, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - With snow falling along the Eastern seaboard again Wednesday, kids aren’t the only ones cheering. So are television executives.

TV viewership increases when families are cooped up in their homes during storms, and nowhere was this more evident than during the Jan. 10-13 storm that dumped snow across a wide swath of the country, including areas of the South that seldom see it. The Nielsen Co. said that storm had a bigger impact on television ratings than any other in recent history.

Viewership across the country was up 8 percent over 2010 during that four-day period, Nielsen said. Among children aged 2 to 11, many home from school or day care, viewership was up 18 percent. It was up 15 percent among teenagers.

“The reason it was historic was because the storm spread as broadly as it did,” said Pat McDonough, Nielsen’s senior vice president for insight and analysis.

Storms frequently have a localized impact on TV ratings _ or little impact when they hit areas used to it, she said.

It’s no surprise the storm caused The Weather Channel to adjust its programming that week, but Nickelodeon did, too.

The kids’ channel saw its average audience increase from 1.9 million to 2.4 million on Jan. 10, compared to the same day a year earlier. For the Disney Channel, the typical audience rose from 1.3 million to 1.6 million, Nielsen said.

Anticipating a heavy snow day on Jan. 11 as the storm moved north, Nickelodeon cut short its preschool programming block by two hours, replacing it with programming older children might appreciate, like “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “iCarly,” spokesman Dan Martinsen said. The result: a 43 percent ratings increase over the year before.

Bad weather is a boon for The Weather Channel, whose audience was up 62 percent that Monday, Nielsen said. It was the fourth-highest day ever for traffic at the station’s website that day, the second-highest ever on Tuesday, spokeswoman Shirley Powell said.

So far in January, The Weather Channel has pre-empted regular programming on 17 of 26 days, including Wednesday, she said. It was on special storm footing for 25 days in December.

Other snow day winners were MTV, whose ratings went up 32 percent, and BET _ whose relatively small average audience increased from 368,000 people to 679,000 on that Monday, Nielsen said.

Fox no doubt is hoping for inclement whether on Feb. 6, when the Super Bowl is scheduled. Sports fans forced to stay at home instead of going to bars or parties means bigger ratings, McDonough said.

And there was evidence that parents stuck at home were looking for escapism: Bravo ratings were up 60 percent, and SyFy’s were up 42 percent that first day of the storm.

Then there was the ultimate in escapism: As snow piled up outside, television viewers sought warm vistas elsewhere. Viewership was up 57 percent on the Travel Channel, Nielsen said.

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