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Published: Wednesday, 3/23/2005

WTOL-TV lost some of its ratings momentum


By moving high-profile news anchors Jerry Anderson and Melissa Voetsch to mornings, WTOL-TV, Channel 11, appeared poised to sweep the five time slots for local news.

But the ratings book for Nielsen Media Research's February "sweeps" showed that the CBS affiliate's momentum from November -- when it won four of the time slots, three in convincing fashion -- has slowed considerably.

Not only did WTVG-TV, Channel 13, remain No. 1 at 6 a.m., but it overtook WTOL for No. 1 at 6 p.m. among viewers age 25 to 54, the demographic that advertisers covet.

In the key demographic, WTOL was No. 1 at noon, 5 p.m., and 11 p.m.

WTOL news director Mitch Jacob, whose overhaul of the morning newscast generated buzz in the market, said that "we're well on our way" to being No. 1 in the morning.

"We just launched the morning show on Jan. 17, two weeks before the start of the [ratings period]," Jacob said. "Yes, we have top talent on there, but morning viewing habits are incredibly hard to change."

Among viewers age 25 to 54, WTVG's audience share weekday mornings was 37 percent and WTOL's was 29. Each station's share increased from November, when WTVG had a 29 share and WTOL was at 24.

WTVG's morning newscast, anchored by Jeff Smith and Rebecca Regnier, has been No. 1 for nine consecutive ratings periods. In August, Regnier replaced Kelli Wiese as Smith's co-anchor.

"There's no reason for us to be anything but delighted [with our morning numbers]," WTVG news director Brian Trauring said.

Jacob pointed out that during the second half of the ratings period, which ran from Feb. 3 to March 2, WTOL tied WTVG in the morning. He predicted that WTOL will be No. 1 in the A.M. before the end of the year.

"We're on track with where we're going," Jacob said. "We're looking forward to May."

Trauring was particularly pleased with WTVG's February numbers, especially in light of the disappointment in November. The 25-54 victory at 6 p.m. was the best indication that the ABC-owned station has recovered from its stumble.

"We came back strong across the board," Trauring said. "There isn't a time period that doesn't have a strong number attached to it."

In November, WTOL was the only local station that could brag about its overall performance. Three months later, the three competitors each got their turn.

WNWO-TV, Channel 24, was No. 3 in all four time slots in which its newscasts compete against WTOL and WTVG. However, the NBC affiliate's 25-54 audience share increased in every time slot from the previous February. Just as important, the station showed improvement from November.

"The trends look great," WNWO general manager Rick Lipps said. "From 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., every one of our newscasts is up. You look for trends, and that's what we got [going for us]."

Fox affiliate WUPW-TV, Channel 36, was buoyed by a strong prime-time lineup -- led by American Idol, which aired three nights a week during sweeps.

Both WUPW newscasts -- 4 and 10 p.m. -- showed gains from the previous February. A 4 p.m., the number of viewers went from 4,000 last February to 5,000; the 10 p.m. went from 26,000 last February to 30,000 viewers.

For total viewers, WTOL was No. 1 in four of the five time slots for local news. (WTVG had the most total viewers among the three morning newscasts.) WTOL averaged 99,000 viewers at 6 p.m. and 70,000 at 11 p.m. Chrys Peterson and Terry Thill are co-anchors on those newscasts.

WTVG, with Diane Larson and Lee Conklin as co-anchors, averaged 71,000 viewers at 6 p.m. and 42,000 at 11 p.m.

WNWO (Jennifer Stacy and Jim Blue) averaged 26,000 at 6 p.m. and 29,000 at 11 p.m.

Television stations use Nielsen's ratings to set advertising rates. The next ratings period is April 28 to May 25.

Contact Russ Lemmon at: rlemmon@theblade.com or 419-724-6122.

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