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Columns
WPXI fares well in 'demos' race

Thursday, June 14, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

It's all about the demos. The what? The demographics. They tell not just how many people are watching TV shows, but what kind of people, based mostly on age and gender.

Household ratings, released at the end of May, measure the popularity of local newscasts. On that score, WPXI remained the dominant news outfit, winning at 5 and 11 p.m. and tying with WTAE at 6 a.m. KDKA won back the 6 p.m. newscast and was close on the heels of WPXI at 11 p.m.

But demos are the basis for advertising rates, and that's what matters most to area stations. Judging demographic ratings is a little more tricky because good demos are in the eye of the ad buyer, depending on whom they want to reach.

In general, the "key demos" are considered to be persons or women age 25 to 54. In those categories, WPXI fared best.

At 5 p.m., WPXI was first in persons 25 to 54 with KDKA and WTAE tied for second. Among women 25 to 54, valued because it's believed women do more buying for the household, WPXI was first, WTAE second and KDKA third.

At 6 p.m., KDKA and WPXI tied for persons 25 to 54 with WTAE second. WPXI had the best ratings among women 25 to 54 with KDKA and WTAE tied for second.

At 11 p.m., WPXI was tops in both demos. KDKA and WTAE tied for second in both categories.

All three stations were tied in the key demos at 6 a.m. At noon, KDKA was tops in women and persons 25 to 54; WPXI and WTAE tied for second.

WPGH, which programs news only at 10 p.m., held steady in key demos compared to its performance a year ago.

In prime time, the top entertainment shows demographically were often hits in the household ratings. CBS's "Survivor: The Australian Outback" had the best numbers in KDKA's prime time, better even than NBC's "ER," which was tops in key demos for WPXI.

ABC's "The Practice" generated the best demos on WTAE. The WB's "Charmed" did best for WCWB. Fox's "The X-Files" and "The Simpsons" did well for WPGH. The last episodes of UPN's "Star Trek: Voyager" generated the best demos for WNPA.

Shoring up the lead-in

In an effort to better the ratings of its 5 p.m. newscast, KDKA will move No. 1 daytime soap opera "The Young and the Restless" to 4 p.m. beginning June 25.

"Y&R" bumps the lower-rated "Rosie O'Donnell Show" out of its long-time berth. "Rosie" will move to the current "Y&R" time slot, 12:30 p.m. weekdays.

In a press release, KDKA general manager Gary Cozen characterized the "Y&R" move as "a good one for fans, not just of daytime television, but television in general. More people will have access to one of the most popular shows on TV."

It's a smart strategic move, but airing "Y&R" at 4 p.m. will expose more children, who will have just returned home during the school year, to its sexy scenes. That's bad news for parents, though certainly not as bad as when WCWB aired "The Jerry Springer Show" at 5 p.m. following cartoons.

Oops, they did it again?

For more than a month now, KDKA has broadcast reports at 6:45 p.m. Monday and Wednesday on "the Tri-State PGA Masters." The final report aired last night. Golf competitions are certainly legitimate coverage for any newscast, but this one -- despite assurances to the contrary -- has the distinct whiff of commercialism.

No matter which sports anchor is reading the copy, he never fails to not just mention, but to tout the Lakeview Golf Resort & Spa where the tournament is held. Lakeview also buys commercials that run during KDKA newscasts.

"The Lakeview Golf Resort and Spa: the easiest drive in golf, just an hour away in Morgantown, W. Va.," said sports anchor Bob Pompeani during a recent 6 p.m. newscast. "Call them with your tee times. You can play where the pros play --call 1-800 ..."

KDKA's director of marketing, Mike Gerst, said there's no deal in place that compels KDKA sports anchors to give out the resort's phone number, yet the sports anchors do so almost without fail.

"The deal to put an ad in there has nothing to do with the coverage," Gerst said.

Pompeani was out of town and unavailable for comment.

Last year, KDKA had sports anchors promote Dick's Sporting Goods during the nightly 6 p.m. newscast by directing viewers to a trivia question on the Dick's Web site. At the time, a KDKA news executive said it was OK for sports and weather anchors to be involved in such quasi-commercialism because they are "not out there covering the hard news stories of the day."

By any good measure of journalistic ethics, reporters -- whether they cover news, sports or entertainment -- should not serve as pitchmen, especially during a newscast.

Outside the newscast, both KDKA and WPXI push their news personnel into commercial venues. On KDKA, anchors sing the praises of "making a difference in our hometown" in feel-good spots that have the names of advertisers attached at the end.

WPXI's David Johnson and others serve as hosts for programs on PCNC that are little more than infomercials. Hosts of PCNC's "The Law & You" direct viewers to a specific law firm's Web site.

WPXI general manager John Howell said it's a remnant of the days when TV stations looked to staff announcers to host programs. Now the only on-air talent at most TV stations is news personnel.

"We have had some debate about that internally," Howell said. "As I look at it, it doesn't seem like a big deal. They act as a host, not as pitchman."

But these news anchors direct viewers to the Web site of the lawyer who pays for the program's air time, just as KDKA's sports anchors directed viewers to a sporting goods store's Web site.

While we're dealing with news personnel and commercialism, what are we to make of retired news anchors who trade on their status as trusted broadcasters? Former WTAE anchor Adam Lynch pitches cars and former KDKA anchor Ray Tannehill was recently spotted on TV promoting a cruise. Does working in commercials sully a reporter's legacy?

"Some might argue the whole concept of borrowing on your previous personal fame or infamy is repugnant, but I don't see it as a problem unless you wanted to go back or had in fact resumed some kind of journalistic enterprise," Lynch said. "If I am satisfied with the quality of the product I'm talking about, that what I'm saying reflects the truth of the matter, then I don't have any personal quarrel [with doing it]."

Lynch, who turned down two commercial offers because he wasn't satisfied the product was as good as he was asked to say it was, said he takes questions of ethics seriously.

"You must be enormously careful how you use what was an element of trust you had created with the audience and with your employer," Lynch said. "Integrity and decency and honesty were so vastly important to me, perhaps more to me than some of my contemporaries. I felt it was a sacred trust to get it right and not fudge anything."

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

Thursday, June 14, 2001

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