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Tuned In: WPXI up, KDKA down in local TV news race

Thursday, June 15, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

"It's all in the eyes of the ratings beholder," said the wise woman at Nielsen Media Research.

Say it again, sister.

Looking at ratings and shares and trying to find trends can be mind boggling. No matter what I deduce, someone, somewhere will come up with a counterargument.

Why put myself through the torture? Believe me, I wonder sometimes, too, but it's all in the interest of keeping track of our local stations and where they stand.

Take a deep breath and proceed, secure in the knowledge I'll subject readers to demographics columns just twice a year.

In the May sweeps, the household ratings race among local newscasts was the closest it's ever been. But household numbers are mostly about popularity. The newly released demographic ratings are what stations will use to persuade advertisers to buy time on their air.

Of course, which demos used are open to debate. Women 25 to 54? Men 18 to 49? It probably depends on the advertiser that the stations are trying to woo.

We'll start with the persons 25 to 54 demographic.

At 6 a.m., WPXI and WTAE tied for first, with KDKA second.

At noon, KDKA and WTAE tied for first, with WPXI second.

At 5 p.m., WTAE and WPXI tied for first, with KDKA second.

At 6 p.m. all three stations had identical ratings.

At 11 p.m., WPXI was first, WTAE came in second and KDKA was third.

Still with me?

More important numbers might be found in the trends of how stations performed over the course of the past year. After scrutinizing the women 25 to 54, persons 18 to 49 and men 25 to 54 demos at 6 p.m., here's my take on the numbers: KDKA appears to be on a downward trend, while WPXI and WTAE appear to be on the rise.

The numbers aren't entirely consistent for every sweeps period from May 1999 to May 2000, but from a year ago WPXI and WTAE are definitely up in these demos and KDKA is down. At 11 p.m. in the same demos, KDKA is down, WPXI shows the most growth and WTAE is inconsistent (up a point in one demo, stable in another and down in the last).

I also set out to see if the household numbers are truly affected by sweeps by looking at trends for shares of the audience for the four weeks before, during and after the February 2000 ratings period.

The results? Inconsistent.

At 5 p.m., WPXI went up by three percentage points during sweeps and down two points after, indicating that the station's contest had at least some impact. During the same sweeps period, WTAE did not run a contest. Its numbers went down during sweeps by one percentage point and came back up by one percentage point after sweeps. KDKA went down during sweeps and remained lower in the four-week average following sweeps.

At 6 p.m. KDKA went down during sweeps and kept sliding afterwards, but still remained in front of its competitors. WPXI went up during sweeps and remained at that level. WTAE went down by two points during sweeps and came up by one after.

At 11 p.m. KDKA slid during February sweeps and continued to slide after, but remained ahead of the competition every step of the way. WPXI went up by one percentage point during sweeps and sustained that level. WTAE had the same average rating for the four weeks before and during sweeps and went up by one percentage point afterwards.

If you're still reading after all that data, you deserve to know what this means.

The bottom line? Although the changes are slight (in most cases a point up or down) and the competition tight, average household shares for the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts from 1998 to 2000 show KDKA is down in each time period, WPXI is up in each and WTAE is up at 6, but down at 5 and 11 p.m.

D'OH! "They could use an infusion of gray matter at Channel 11," said the anonymous caller on my voice mail.

While I wouldn't put it that harshly, a flub at the end of the station's morning newscast last Thursday caught my ear, too, and pointed out the hazards of unscripted banter between anchors.

Following a report on the Olympic torch and its journey to Sydney, Australia, for the summer games, anchor Bob Bruce explained that the reason the Olympics would be held in September rather than July is to avoid the summer heat.

I'm not a geography whiz by any means, but I remember Australia's seasons are the opposite of ours. University of Pittsburgh geology Professor Edward Lidiak confirmed summer heat isn't a problem in July because Australia is south of the equator and in July, Australia is in the midst of its winter.

But it's a pretty mild winter. An Australian tourist Web site puts the average July temperature at 62 degrees in Sydney. Come September it should be a little warmer with less rain.

SUBS: You know it's summer vacation time when reporters get off the street and behind the anchor desk. Already we've seen several reporters sitting in for vacationing anchors. Summer also means a few new faces pop up on the tube as temporary fill-ins.

Last weekend Mix 96.1 radio deejay Scott Alexander filled in as weathercaster on WPGH's "Ten O'Clock News."

A new face popped up in WTAE's weather center, too. Mike Brookins, the station's weather producer, was fill-in weathercaster on some of the station's newscasts over the weekend. Brookins usually oversees the weather graphics for the weekday evening and late newscasts.

Also, during Michelle Wright's maternity leave (her due date is tomorrow) Sally Wiggin, Shawn Yancy and Wendy Bell will fill in on Channel 4's 5 p.m. news.

"SPACE" ANIMATION: Local computer animation company Home Run Pictures created four minutes of footage for "Destination Space," a two-hour "National Geographic Explorer" production that airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on CNBC.

In one sequence, a computer-generated spaceship is seen mining asteroids for water. Another segment imagines the future of airline travel aboard saucer-shaped ships.

"GIRLS" MOVIE: Cartoon Network will launch its first feature film in 2002 with a movie based on its hit series, "The Powerpuff Girls."

Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup will be brought to the big screen by the show's creator, Charleroi native Craig McCracken.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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