WTOL-TV, Channel 11, which has dominated Toledo's television news ratings for decades, suffered a dramatic - and perplexing - setback during the May sweeps.
WTVG-TV, Channel 13, beat WTOL in three of the five weekday newscasts in which they go head-to-head, according to Nielsen Media Research. Just 10 months ago, WTOL was No. 1 in each time slot.
How stunning was WTOL's drop? Consider that among viewers ages 25-54, the demographic coveted by advertisers, WTOL's hour-long 5 p.m. newscast had a smaller audience share than The Simpsons and King of the Hill on WUPW-TV, Channel 36. A year ago, WTOL's share at 5 p.m. was more than four times that of The Simpsons.
“The real story is WTOL's loss, more than the gains of the competitors,” WUPW general manager Ray Maselli said.
Indeed. When compared to audience share of a year ago, the numbers for the other stations remained relatively steady.
Meanwhile, holding steady enabled WTVG to claim victory in what is considered the most important ratings period of the year. The ABC-owned station had the No. 1 newscast at 6 a.m., 5 p.m., and 6 p.m. WTOL, a CBS affiliate, was No. 1 at noon and 11 p.m.
“Certainly, this gives us momentum,” WTVG news director Brian Trauring said. “This is a tremendous shot in the arm. The trick will be to sustain that, to keep it moving forward.”
In Carty Finkbeiner, WTVG had a promotional tool that none of its rivals could match. Whether the weekly commentaries by Toledo's former two-term mayor helped WTVG in the ratings is fodder for debate. Competitors discounted Finkbeiner's impact in the ratings, but there's little doubt that his commentaries generated plenty of water-cooler chat - valuable word-of-mouth advertising, if you will.
“I think Carty does deserve some of the credit,” Trauring said. “But I don't think any one person deserves all of the credit. There are a lot of factors involved. We're focused on what we do well, and that's serious, issue-oriented news.”
At 6 p.m., which has the most viewers of any newscast, WTVG - with co-anchors Diane Larson and Lee Conklin - had a 5 rating and 20 share among viewers ages 25-54, while WTOL had a 5 rating/19 share. During the May sweeps of 2001, WTOL had a 32 share and WTVG was at 22.
A rating is the percentage of households tuned to a particular program from the total available television households. A share is the percentage of households turned on that are tuned to a particular program.
From 5 to 6 p.m., WTVG had a 4 rating and 20 share, compared to WTOL's 2/13. (A year ago, WTOL had a 29 share and WTVG was at 20.) But news no longer dominates this time slot, as evidenced by WTOL's drop to No. 3. On WUPW, The Simpsons had a 2 rating/14 share among viewers age 25-54 from 5 to 5:30, and another animated program, King of the Hill, had a 2/14 from 5:30 to 6. A year ago, The Simpsons had a 7 share.
WTOL news director C.J. Beutien said he is “perplexed” by the Nielsen numbers.
“There are a lot of things in this book that don't make sense,” he said. “I've seen that kind of movement [in other markets], but it's usually because something happened - like an anchor change or a format change.”
WTOL has the same anchors as a year ago - Jerry Anderson at 5 p.m., Chrys Peterson and Bill Hormann at 6 p.m. - and the format has not changed.
“We have the same product as a year ago,” Beutien said. “The audience did not go to the competitors, so that doesn't explain it. ... There is no explanation why we would lose that much of the audience to cable - and just in those newscasts.”
At 11 p.m., WTOL was No. 1 for the 35th consecutive ratings period, dating back to 1993, with a 5 rating/23 share. WNWO-TV, Channel 24, and WTVG each had a 3/13.
For WNWO, the 11 p.m. feat was noteworthy because the NBC affiliate is a perennial No. 3 - a distant third at that - in the ratings. WNWO's late-night numbers were aided by the network's heavyweight lead-in programming (such as Law & Order and ER). It continued to struggle during the 90-minute news block beginning at 5 p.m.
WUPW's 10 p.m. newscast also experienced a decline in viewers. The Fox affiliate had 20,000 adult viewers, compared to last May's 26,000. Having to compete against much-hyped, first-run programming on the other networks didn't help. WUPW, which recently won a regional Emmy Award for Outstanding Daily Newscast/Market Size 41-plus, usually fares better during the July ratings period, when the networks are in the rerun mode.
The number of adult viewers watching the 11 p.m. news was down about 10 percent from the previous May (120,000 this year, compared to 133,000 last year).
Television stations use ratings to set advertising rates. The next ratings period is July 11 to Aug. 7.