The head of the largest owner of local television stations in the country says a viral outbreak of coronavirus in the United States could provide a boon for stations and advertisers.
On a conference call with investors late last month, Nexstar Media Group Chief Executive Officer Perry Sook said the outbreak of COVID-19 would likely increase ratings at television stations because those suspected of having the virus would self-quarantine and more likely to watch TV.
“If you’re quarantined in your home and one of the few things you can do is watch television, I think advertisers see the benefit in that,” Sook said during the call.
Sook made the comments before the first death from the virus was recorded in the United States. As of Wednesday evening, nearly a dozen people had died from COVID-19 and more than 100 confirmed infections have been recorded, according to figures made public by the Centers for Disease Control.
The actual infection rate could be higher because symptoms aren’t immediate and some may confuse COVID-19 with a routine cold or flu. Those who have died from the virus have skewed older in age and have had underlying health conditions or complications, officials said.
The 11 recorded deaths so far have occurred in states where Nexstar Media Group owns stations. One person died in Placer County, California, an area serviced by Nexstar-owned Fox affiliate KTXL-TV (Channel 40). Ten other people died near Seattle where Nexstar owned Fox affiliate KCPQ-TV (Channel 13) until Monday. Both stations were previously owned by Tribune Media, which Nexstar acquired last year for $7.2 billion.
This week, a KCPQ executive circulated a memo to station employees saying a worker had self-quarantined after learning a family member worked at a health care facility that treated patients who later tested positive for COVID-19. The employee, whose name was not released, quarantined out of an abundance of caution.
On Tuesday, two employees from Chicago ABC station WLS-TV (Channel 7) were told to stay home after interviewing a health care worker at a hospital who may have come into contact with the virus. Two other station employees self-quarantined at home out of an abundance of caution.
WLS-TV is owned by the Disney-ABC Television Group, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company.
For accurate and reliable information about the coronavirus COVID-19, click or tap here to visit the World Health Organization’s website.