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Tuned In: Wrapping up results of local stations' ratings

Thursday, December 23, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Time matters year-round, but especially with Christmas arriving in 48 hours.With time comes age, and television media buyers spend millions of dollars buying ads based on a show's ratings with specific age groups. That's why Nielsen's demographic ratings from a sweeps period are so important.

Of course, there's always a question about which demographic is "best." Locally, stations seem to put the most emphasis on the 25-54 age group. An advertiser may place more importance on another age group or a specific gender, depending on its target audience.

Here's a look at the November 1999 ratings, with a focus on the "persons 25-54 demographic."

In November, WPXI saw year-to-year increases in this demographic for several newscasts. WPXI was on top at 5 and 11 p.m. (helped in large part by a huge lead-in Thursdays from "ER"), followed by a KDKA-WTAE tie at 5 and KDKA in second and WTAE in third at 11 p.m. A year ago, WTAE and WPXI tied at 5 and 11 p.m. with KDKA in second place.

At 6 p.m. there was a three-way tie among the stations in November 1999 (KDKA was on top in 1998, with a WTAE-WPXI tie for second).

WPXI and WTAE tied at 6 a.m. this November, with KDKA in third place. A year ago WTAE was in first place followed by a KDKA-WPXI tie.

At noon KDKA continues to dominate, with WTAE in second and WPXI in third place (last year KDKA was in the lead with a WPXI-WTAE tie for second).

WPGH's 10 p.m. news declined by one rating point in both persons 25-54 and 18-49 compared to a year ago.

In non-news programming there was a three-way tie in persons 18-49 and 25-54 among 4 p.m. shows, "Judge Judy" on WPXI, "Oprah Winfrey" on WTAE and "Rosie O'Donnell" on KDKA. But at 4:30 p.m., "Judge Judy" surpassed her competitors.

UPN affiliate WNPA is beginning to show signs of demographic life, especially at 6:30 p.m., where "Divorce Court" ties WCWB's "3rd Rock from the Sun" in persons 18-49 and 25-54, although both programs trail WPGH's "Home Improvement" reruns.

At 7 p.m., "Jeopardy!" on WPXI remains king, although WCWB's "Friends" reruns perform well as do "The Drew Carey Show" on WPGH, the "CBS Evening News" on KDKA and "Inside Edition" on WTAE. WTAE's "Entertainment Tonight" leads in the 25-54 demographic at 7:30 p.m.

In prime-time, WCWB probably under-performs locally compared to cities with larger youth populations, but "7th Heaven" is the demographic leader among WCWB programs airing at 8 p.m. ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer" comes in a close second).

"WWF Smackdown!" is tops on WNPA, locally outdrawing every other UPN prime-time show in the key demos, including "Star Trek: Voyager." But the biggest winners in Pittsburgh prime time were "ER" on WPXI and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" on WTAE, especially the "Millionaire" that aired the day before Thanksgiving at 8 p.m.

In late night, NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" outperforms CBS's "Late Show with David Letterman" in persons 25-54 (they're tied in the 18-49 demo). ABC's "Nightline" ranks third locally.

At 12:30 a.m., NBC's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," CBS's "Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn" and WPGH's "Frasier" reruns are all tied, but Saturday night's "Howard Stern Radio Show" on KDKA has better demos than all three.

KDKA CHANGES: Morning- anchor-turned-morning-reporter Paul Alexander will move to the sports department full time in mid-January. He takes the place of Paul Steigerwald, who no longer reports for KDKA but still appears on the station offering commentary on the Penguins. Alexander will be replaced in the morning by newcomer Bob Allen, a Pittsburgh native most recently a reporter/fill-in anchor at KSHB, the ABC affiliate in Kansas City. Allen appeared on KDKA during the Gulf War, anchoring overnight news updates.

AND THE POINT IS... This fall the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance rolled out a series of spots aimed at keeping twentysomethings such as myself in Pittsburgh. But if I hadn't read what they were about, I wouldn't know they're trying to sell Pittsburgh to young folks.

In the first "U-Cam" spot, an in-line skater glides down the streets of Pittsburgh as a rock soundtrack blares. A camera mounted on the skater's helmet shows what he sees, but aside from a bit of narration, there's nothing that gives a clue to what the ad is for. Spots featuring a crew team on the Allegheny River and an Ultimate Frisbee team are equally vague. I'm not alone in this assessment; I've watched the spots with several friends my age who had similar reactions.

Only a final spot that includes interviews with twentysomethings who tout what there is to do in Pittsburgh ("Mount Washington," "great night life," "get naked and roll around in some Jell-O," etc.) offers concrete descriptions of the region's alleged benefits.

The regional alliance has plans for spots featuring a border guard who keeps young people from leaving. If executed well, these humorous spots could get the group's point across far better than the warmed-over music video-like ads currently airing.

Pittsburgh Regional Alliance isn't the only group promoting the region in local TV advertisements. The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Alliance bought time for its Arts Pittsburgh campaign.

One ad features a female paramedic remembering the importance of music in her life. It's sappy, but it probably strikes a chord (pun intended) with the target audience. A child's voice whispering "the arts bring life to life" got my attention with its excellent tag line and the eerie sound of the voice. I immediately thought of the kid who whispers "I see dead people" in "The Sixth Sense."

Another spot features a metronome ticking and video bursts of various stage performances and pieces of art. It's energetic and combats the image some may have of the arts as sleep-inducing.

MORE COMMERCIALS: You're not just imagining -- there really are more commercials for dot-com companies on TV.

Competitive Media Reporting released a report that shows spending by Internet companies on network TV jumped 362 percent in the first nine months of this year compared to the first nine months of 1998.

That number is sure to go higher after the crush of holiday ads is added to the total. Though some of the Internet commercials are bizarre (the Amazon.com spots look like they're from the Lawrence Welk era), many are strangely captivating and memorable.

Happy holidays!

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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