UPDATE, 2:35 PM: NBC will air its Dateline special, using the helmet-cam video of the skydivers who survived that mid-air collision 12,000 feet above Wisconsin last weekend, this Friday at 8 PM on a Dateline special called Miracle On The Sunset Dive. Sure enough, NBC News was saving that second plot — the one whose plane caught fire and broke into pieces, and who was not seen on Tuesday’s Today show — for the Dateline special. “For the first time, hear from the pilot whose plane lost both of its wings and plummeted to the ground,” NBC News emoted in this afternoon’s scheduling announcement.
PREVIOUS, 10:17 AM: Word that NBC News had paid “in excess” of $100,000 for exclusive rights to helmet-cam video of skydivers who’d miraculously survived a recent mid-air collision in Wisconsin had some media critics harrumphing mightily, accusing NBC News of “checkbook journalism” albeit on a Hollywood-cappuccino-money level — but that’s not the point. In fairness, the news did not offend some media-watchers’ moral sense — no doubt because they don’t have one, you’re thinking.
Anyway, NBC News told the Washington Post the money is the usual license fee for exclusive use of home video and images; critics charge the money also covered interviews with the crash survivors — though one might argue NBC News would look pretty silly paying a license fee for the tangle of confusing helmet-cam video without securing first dibs on interviews with survivors who could explain what the heck viewers were seeing. ABC News, however, told the paper it wanted to do just that, and bowed out “as soon as it became clear that these interviews were tied directly to cash payments.” One of the skydivers, in fact, did an interview — with the Post — to say they’re allowed to talk to members of the print media, and radio, until they’re blue in the face — they just can’t talk to another TV outlet for two weeks. Presumably, that’s how long it’ll take NBC News to produce and air that planned Dateline special on the mid-air collision.
While critics of NBC navel lint-gazed as to whether the news division had paid for news — or just for ratings — we wondered whether NBC News was getting its money’s worth. Consider this: The network has used some of the video in its evening newscast on Monday — but that was mostly a tease for Tuesday morning’s big collision segment on Today, which NBC News is trying to get back on top of the morning infotainment-show ratings. Early affiliate stats for Monday’s evening newscasts show NBC News leading the pack — not unusual — with an average audience of 9.41 million viewers, besting ABC’s 8.62 million and CBS’ 7.85 million. That 9.41 million crowd is about 714,000 viewers better than NBC’s newscast had done the previous Monday. Except, CBS’ Monday evening news enjoyed a bigger Monday-to-Monday spike — 886,000 viewers (ABC’s newscast grew by 481,000 viewers). And, all those increases probably had more to do with this past Monday being the first since Daylight Saving Time ended. Sun goes down earlier, people are inside earlier, more potential audience for evening newscasts — not rocket science.
More important to NBC News, Tuesday’s Today clocked 5.139 million viewers, according to fast affiliate time-period data — climbing about 207,000 viewers compared to its previous morning, and soaring 640,000 viewers ahead of the previous Tuesday. Unfortunately, the mid-air crash survivors, and their $100,000-ish worth of helmet-cam video, was no match for ABC News’ Good Morning America and its exit interview with Dancing With The Stars‘ latest booted celebrity Brant Daugherty. GMA logged 5.835 million viewers Tuesday morning. GMA also beat Today in the news demo by a slim margin in those early stats: 2.210 million compared to 2.136 million.
It’s too bad, because Matt Lauer outdid himself with the skydiver segment, introducing the “chilling video, licensed exclusively by NBC News,” probing the emotional wound of one teary-eyed diver, and asking her and her colleagues, and one of the pilots, to provide details of their harrowing experience. One diver, who’d found himself wedged between the two planes, called the experience “unpleasant” and noted he’d heard another diver scream. “Let’s not forget the spinning propellers … thinking you might get cut in half by one of those propellers,” Matt said, helpfully.
Another skydiver told Lauer that when she saw the other plane get way too close, “I thought it was a joke. It was not funny and not appropriate.” The pilot who did not join Lauer on Tuesday’s Today show was a student, according to the pilot who did. Matt did not think to ask the pilot how the heck the two sky-diving planes wound up colliding — possibly he’s saving that question for the Dateline special. Instead, after starting the Today segment asking those who were happy to be alive to raise their hands, he closed the segment asking them to raise their hands again if they’d get back in a plane and skydive again. They all raised their hands.
“I’m more terrified of spiders,” said one of the women.
“We don’t have that alarming video of spiders,” Matt said.