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Tuesday, November 25, 2014
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Published: Friday, 7/16/2010

Analyzing May Nielsens: The winners, losers, and some troubling signs ahead

Welcome to the Blade blog Culture Shock, a three-times-a-week riff by Pop Culture Editor Kirk Baird on pop culture news, events, and trends. The blog will appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings here, with the odd night or off-day posting if something is merited.

You may or may not have read my May sweeps story in Friday's Blade. If not, let me get you quickly up to speed. (You can also click here to read it.)

WTVG-TV, Channel 13, has asserted itself as the dominant news station in northwest Ohio.

Period.

You can't sugarcoat it any other way. The numbers, as depressing as they may be for those at competing stations, don't lie. They can be manipulated and exaggerated, but they don't lie.

What the numbers are saying is that after decades of dominance, WTOL-TV, Channel 11, is no longer Toledo's true news leader. Sure, the station took first in the noon and 11 p.m. newscasts among total area viewers, but it also tied with WTVG for the same newscasts among the 25 to 54-year-old demographic.

That's what you would call a moral victory.

In all other newscasts in the same two categories -- viewers 25 to 54 and total viewers -- Channel 11 was in second place.

When I joined The Blade staff almost two years to the day, Channel 11 was still in first place, but Channel 13 was clearly making gains. WTVG, a Disney-owned ABC affiliate, has some deep pockets. Notice 13 was the first local station to go high-def with its newscasts, while no other station is close to making the switch. That's not a coincidence.

Now you get the feeling that Channel 13 is beginning to pile it on as it settles into what it hopes -- perhaps expects -- to be a long run at No. 1.

What may be WTOL's best asset at the moment is its network affiliation to CBS. With few exceptions, CBS's prime-time programming was more popular with local viewers than ABC's shows. This helps explain why WTOL was watched by 8,000 more viewers at 11 p.m. weekdays among total viewers than WTVG, 52,000 to 44,000.

Unfortunately for WTOL, there's only one post-prime-time newscast.

As a professional disclaimer, I should acknowledge that WTOL is a media partner with The Blade. I also appear on Channel 11's 9 to 10 a.m. weekday Your Day newscast to critique movies and talk pop culture. Friday morning, for instance, I'll be on to discuss Inception. And while in Los Angeles covering the American Idol finale, I Skyped with the station and called in with updates.

On a personal level, I like everyone I've met at Channel 11. That also goes for the other stations.

But one facet of my job is to write about local media, which sometimes requires me to separate my feelings from the facts to perform my job. This is one of those times.

The bottom line: Channel 11 is in trouble. It's not a crisis, but it is serious enough that there are some concerned faces at the station, as there is any time in the TV industry when a station goes from a dominant No. 1 to a shrinking No. 2.

What happens next at WTOL is a guess to anyone but management at the station and its parent company, Raycom Media. Already there's been some tweaks to WTOL's morning newscast. One expects bigger changes between now and before the November sweeps as well.

If that doesn't work ... well, most of us can guess what might happen from there.

And speaking of ratings winners and losers ... Fox affiliate WUPW-TV, Channel 36, put together some impressive numbers for its 10 p.m. newscast.

The hourlong news program, which competes against prime-time offerings from the other networks, was watched by an average of 32,000 total viewers, more than half of whom -- 17,000 -- were 25 to 54.That's up by 10,000 total viewers and 7,000 in the 25-to-54 age group from February.

Of course, having a local contestant, Crystal Bowersox, on Fox's American Idol certainly bolstered the station's numbers. But as WUPW news director Steve France said, American Idol was only on twice a week -- Tuesdays and Wednesdays -- during May, so viewers were tuning in other nights as well.

I looked at the numbers and he's correct. Wednesdays' American Idol results show produced the biggest viewership BY FAR for the 10 p.m. newscast with 58,000 total viewers tuning in; however, 30,000 of them watched on Thursdays and 25,000 on Fridays -- the same number of people watching on Tuesdays. Mondays drew 22,000 viewers on average.

The November sweeps, when there is no American Idol, will help determine if the higher viewership for the 10 p.m. newscast is a trend or merely an Idol aberration.

WUPW's counter-programming 6:30 p.m. newscast, which competes against network news on Channel 11, 13, and 24, fared better in the 25-to-54 demographic compared to February, up from 2,000 to 3,000. The newscast also shed a thousand total viewers from the same ratings periods, 5,000 to 4,000.

Nielsen giveth. Neilsen taketh away.

And then there's WNWO-TV, Channel 24.

I wrote about that station's history and longstanding ratings woes -- among many other problems -- several months ago. (Click here to read the story.)

I deliberately chose to end the piece on a high note because it seemed like there might be a glimmer of hope that the NBC affiliate was kinda-sorta showing signs of making itself competitive, as it once did years ago.

The May sweeps indicate that pulling off such a feat may be beyond anyone who doesn't have the last name Messiah.

Without the boost in viewership from the Winter Olympics during the February sweeps, WNWO put up appallingly bad numbers -- the kind that make you shake your head and feel truly sorry for the station and its news team.

The 11 p.m. newscast was watched by 6,000 total viewers. That's pretty bad. Even worse, that's 8,000 less than the total audience who tuned in during February.

Don't look for a happy ending, either, because it's not there.

WNWO's 7:30 p.m. half-hour newscast, according to Nielsen's May numbers, was watched on average by a thousand women and a low enough percentage of men that it wasn't statistically measurable. So the 7:30 newscast, which competes against syndicated programming, received a 1 -- as in one thousand -- among 25 to 54-year-old viewers. That number was doubled in total viewership.

The station did best for the 6 p.m. half-hour newscast, which was watched by 3,000 in the 25-to-54 demo, and 7,000 total viewers.

So, the next time you're at a sold-out concert at the Huntington Center, look around at the audience. The amount of faces you see in the crowd is roughly the amount of people in the area who watch WNWO's 6 p.m. newscast, its biggest total viewership of the day.

Agree or disagree with a posting? Lemme know. Have a topic or suggestion? Lemme know that, too. Send an e-mail to kbaird@theblade.com or call 419-724-6734.



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