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WPXI rises to top in ratings

Friday, March 02, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

WPXI is the hands-down winner of the February local news sweeps race. Channel 11 came in on top at 5 a.m., 6 a.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. and squeaked past KDKA to win at 11 p.m. It's only the second time in history WPXI has beaten KDKA at 6 p.m.

Multiple factors contribute to a sweeps win, including specially promoted feature stories, breaking news, lead-in (WPXI benefits from the highly rated "Judge Judy" before its 5 p.m. news) and contests (only WPXI used one to lure viewers this go around), but in the end a win is a win.

"We think it's all sort of starting to come together," said WPXI general manager John Howell. "It's a good feeling to do this all at once. Truthfully, I didn't think we'd win the 11. I'm happy and surprised we did. Now we want to win the 11 a little bigger."

During sweeps month a station's viewership is measured to set future advertising rates. The ratings released yesterday by Nielsen Media Research are household ratings that reflect more a measure of popularity rather than a basis for advertising rates. TV commercials are generally sold on demographic ratings, which won't be available for several weeks.

"It's a big win for WPXI, I don't think there's any question about that," said WTAE general manager James Hefner. "My impression is we have three television stations from a [ratings] performance standpoint that are really very evenly divided up in thirds.

"Lead-in's a factor," Hefner said. "It has a big effect. A lot of things didn't help us. You'd have to have your head in the sand not to know we push weather, and there wasn't any."

WPXI began its winning ways at 5 a.m., with KDKA second and WTAE third. At 6 a.m. long-time leader WTAE came in second. WTAE and WPXI tied in this time slot last May, and WPXI moved slightly ahead of WTAE in January. Third-place KDKA is down slightly from a year ago.

KDKA remains on top at noon, down only slightly from a year ago. Second-place WTAE and third-place WPXI were down more significantly compared to February 2000.

At 5 p.m., KDKA came in second with WTAE third. All three stations saw their ratings drop from a year ago. Ratings for lead-in programming at 4 p.m. also was down from a year ago, but "Judge Judy" on WPXI remained on top with "Oprah Winfrey" on WTAE second and "Rosie O'Donnell" on KDKA third.

KDKA news director Joe Coscia said two original "Judge Judy" episodes leading into WPXI's 5 p.m. news (instead of one original as usual) had an impact on the ratings as did WPXI's contest.

"If you continue to do contests, you're building an audience based on developing a habit," Coscia said.

Howell acknowledged being the only station in town with a contest probably helped his station.

"Certain people like to play, so they'll come in there," Howell said. "But we've been contesting for maybe 10 years and now all of a sudden our ratings are up. What's different? I think it's the news and quality of our work."

WPXI's win at 6 p.m. was the first time KDKA didn't hold the top spot since February 1996, the first time WPXI won the time period. WPXI was up in the ratings from a year ago, while ratings for WTAE and KDKA declined.

Ratings for WPGH's 10 p.m. news were up from a year ago even though ratings for Fox's prime-time lineup were down in Pittsburgh. WPGH's 10 p.m. news built on its prime-time lead-in in its first half-hour.

KDKA came in first in prime time, just as CBS did nationally. NBC's lineup on WPXI came in second with ABC's prime time on WTAE in third place.

At 11 p.m., WPXI and KDKA had the same share of the audience (percentage of sets in use), but WPXI was ahead by one-tenth of a ratings point (percentage of TV households), giving the NBC station the win. WTAE, which got no help from ABC's lackluster prime-time performance, was the only local station to build slightly on its lead-in ratings at 11 p.m. Ratings for all three stations' late newscasts were down compared to a year ago.

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