SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—When Hurricane Maria shut down Puerto Rico’s power grid in the fall of 2017, NBC and Telemundo gained a new appreciation of their digital platforms to continue engaging with viewers. “We didn’t have a business,” recalls Jose Cancela. “That really was a focus for us on seeing how without power, television is a tough business to be in. But it also gave us a time to reflect on getting ready to be back on the air.”

For about six months, the media entities “were basically in a stall as a business,” Cancela, who is President and GM, Telemundo Puerto Rico & NBC Puerto Rico, explains in this video interview with Beet.TV conducted on the island. Among other effects of Maria, he says an “exodus” of people leaving the island scared advertisers, and cable TV providers suffered two storms: the hurricane and the destruction of broadband lines during the subsequent cleanup.

At Beet Retreat 2018 in San Juan from Nov. 28-30, there will be a special session titled Lessons Learned: Hurricane Maria’s Impact on the Media Industry of Puerto Rico. Cancela and other speakers will discuss how in the absence of broadband advertisers turned to over-the-air broadcasting along with traditional media like outdoor, radio and print.

For Puerto Rico, it took from September to March before “the market really started to react to TV,” at which point 70% of the island had regained electricity, Cancela says. “One thing we learned during that time is the importance of your digital platforms and being able to broadcast through your digital platforms. We never stopped broadcasting but we were broadcasting through our digital platforms.”

Asked to describe the TV market currently, Cancela says “What we’re definitely seeing now is that over the air has grown a good ten percentage points.” He adds that cable providers “actually had two storms,” Maria and the aftermath with “people just sawing through stuff and they cut down a lot of their broadband. It’s taken them a while. They’re still in recoup mode. I’d say the satellite providers have recouped a lot quicker.”

Maria’s impact on audience sizes won’t become clear until the first quarter of 2019 when new Census data become available, according to Cancela. He says the “overlying scenario is the exodus of people, and that scared a lot of the advertisers.” Estimates range from 150,000 to 300,000 people leaving the island within a six-month window. The human outflow scared the market, with some advertisers holding back on ad budgets. “That’s kind of stabilized.”

Throughout the whole ordeal, content remained king. “We produce over forty five hours of local content and we see that as an area of continued opportunity for us,” Cancela says. “No matter what platform they may watch us on, that content is unique to us, unique to Puerto Rico and therefore relevant to our potential viewers and our viewers.”

Joining Cancela to discuss media in the aftermath of Maria will be Melissa Burgos, Marketing Director USVI/Puerto Rico, AT&T Mobility; Freddie Hernandez, General Manager, Procter & Gamble, Puerto Rico; and Andres Claudio, General Manager, Hearts & Science, Puerto Rico. The session will be moderated by Phil Cowdell, President of Client Services at GroupM, who has been deeply involved with Puerto Rico relief and recovery.

The session will conclude with a briefing by Olga Ramos, President of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico. She will present data on the impact of the storm on the island’s youth and her organizations’ efforts to improve their future.