In the three years since longtime news anchor Jeff Heitz retired, WTOL-TV, Channel 11, has had its ups and downs in three of the four ratings periods conducted each year - May, July, and November.
In February, however, it has fared consistently well.
The ratings books for Nielsen Media Research's February "sweeps" arrived at local stations Monday, and WTOL prevailed in intense competition for news viewers age 25 to 54 - the demographic that generates the most advertising revenue.
This was the fourth February ratings period since Heitz's retirement in January, 2001, and the fourth time that WTOL has been No. 1 in the key demo.
WTVG-TV, Channel 13, finished No. 1 with the 25-to-54 crowd twice in 2002 (May and July) and once in 2003 (November).
This year's February sweeps - conducted Feb. 5 through March 3 - produced the same order of finish for the five time slots for news as the previous February. Among viewers 25 to 54, WTOL was No. 1 at noon, 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 11 p.m. WTVG prevailed at 6 a.m.
WNWO-TV, Channel 24, an NBC affiliate, finished third in each of the four time slots in which its newscasts compete against WTOL, a CBS affiliate, and ABC-owned WTVG. (WNWO does not have a noon newscast.)
"Our staff worked very hard to stay on top of breaking news and to produce exceptional newscasts, " WTOL news director C.J. Beutien said. "Plus, a new set, new graphics, new music, and a new studio helped power the psyche of the newsroom. Everyone is very pleased. Now, we have to work even harder to keep those numbers increasing."
WTOL general manager Bob Chirdon referred to two events - the construction accident at the I-280 bridge (Feb. 16) and Ohio's primary election (March 2) - as the "defining moments " of the ratings period.
"On the big news nights, when it mattered the most, we dominated," Chirdon said.
WTVG general manager David L. Zamichow saw things differently. He said at 4 p.m. on the day of the bridge accident, WTVG had four times its normal audience, while WTOL stayed the same. As far as the election is concerned, Zamichow said there was little suspense: Lucas County had the lowest voter turnout in the state, and John Kerry was declared the winner of the Democratic presidential primary before 8 p.m.
WUPW-TV, Channel 36, unveiled the market's first 4 p.m. newscast in January, and general manager Ray Maselli said he is "encouraged " by the numbers. The Fox affiliate's newscast averaged 4,000 viewers; a year ago, Dharma & Greg averaged 6,000 at 4 p.m.
"With greater competition today - cable, satellite, the Internet, and all of the other things that are out there - it takes longer for people to find a program," Maselli said. "We are looking for continued growth in May, but November will be the first real test."
At 6 p.m., which has the most viewers of any newscast, WTOL (with anchors Chrys Peterson and Terry Thill) had a 7 rating and 24 share among viewers age 25 to 54. WTVG (Diane Larson and Lee Conklin) had a 7 rating/23 share, while WNWO (Jennifer Stacy and Jim Blue) had a 2 rating/7 share.
A rating is the percentage of households tuned to a particular program from the total available households. A share is the percentage of households with televisions turned on that are tuned to a particular program.
For total viewers, WTOL was No. 1 in all time slots except 6 a.m. It had more viewers than WTVG and WNWO combined at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 11 p.m.
At 6 p.m., WTOL's newscast averaged 101,000 viewers, compared to 66,000 for WTVG and 19,000 for WNWO. (Those numbers are down from a year ago: WTOL had 106,000 viewers at 6 p.m., followed by 73,000 for WTVG and 20,000 for WNWO.)
WTOL's 5 p.m. newscast benefited from a ratings revival by Oprah. The one-hour talk show, which airs at 4, averaged 51,000 viewers in February, compared to 33,000 a year ago. Oprah's 25-54 audience share was 31 percent; WTOL's hour-long 5 p.m. newscast (with anchor Jerry Anderson) had a 28 share in the key demo.
In November, WTVG defeated WTOL at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. in the 25-to-54 demographic. WTOL won both time slots in February.
At 11 p.m., WTOL (Peterson and Thill) scored a clear-cut victory among viewers 25 to 54. WTOL had a 32 share, followed by WTVG (Larson and Conklin) with 18 and WNWO (Stacy and Blue) with 11.
As has been the case in recent ratings periods, the race was not close at either 6 a.m. or noon. Among viewers 25-54, WTVG had a 39 share at 6 a.m. and WTOL had a 30 share at noon.
Television stations use Nielsen's ratings to set advertising rates. The next ratings period is April 29 to May 26.