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Tuned In: November ratings show WTAE turning it on

Thursday, December 20, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The nice thing about being a major network affiliate in Pittsburgh? Even if your ratings are lousy in one ratings book, there's every chance you'll be on top the next time around.

In 2001, we saw WPXI win in February, KDKA rebound in May and WTAE lead the pack in November in household Nielsen ratings.

But household ratings measure popularity. Demographic ratings 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 people or women ages 25 to 54.

Among women viewers, WTAE got an early Christmas present in November: winning at 6 a.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., the same time slots the station won in household ratings. In the morning news race, Channel 4's demo number was equal to its household rating, a rare feat. KDKA was on top at noon, and WPXI won at 11 p.m.

WTAE did respectably among overall people 25 to 54, winning at 6 a.m., tying with WPXI for second at noon and tying with WPXI for first at 5 p.m. All three stations had the same demo rating at 6 p.m. At 11 p.m., WPXI continues to dominate with KDKA second and WTAE third.

Among the 10 p.m. news shows, Fox affiliate WPGH remains tops in households and demo ratings. Neither WNPA's nor PCNC's 10 p.m. newscasts generated any measurable ratings numbers in Nielsen's key demos.

In a market as competitive as Pittsburgh, it's hard to say what we can glean from WTAE's November success. One ratings book does not a trend make.

WTAE is likely on top in the evening news race due to its contest, which offered more money than the one on WPXI (KDKA doesn't do contests). But that doesn't explain Channel 4's return to form in the morning.

WTAE is the longtime leader in morning news ratings, but over the past two years Channel 11 crept closer, tying Channel 4 and even beating the station in one sweeps period. This time WTAE roared back and WPXI saw its ratings drop. To some degree, this mirrors the ratings of the national morning shows -- ABC's "Good Morning America," always strong in Pittsburgh, is on the rise nationally while ratings for NBC's "Today" are down.

So why the overall WTAE resurgence? Perhaps the "Taking Action 4 You" brand is finally sticking. I'm cynical about most slogans, but recent "testimonial" spots with John Q. Viewer touting the benefits of watching Channel 4 may persuade some people to switch their allegiance.

Another theory, originally posted by a viewer on the Post-Gazette's TV Web site, speculated that because KDKA is copying some of the techniques of WPXI, those two stations are becoming harder to differentiate, allowing WTAE to rise to the top. It's an interesting notion.

"We have said who we are and what we do, and whether one appreciates it or not, I think it is somewhat unique in the marketplace," said WTAE general manager Jim Hefner. "Slogans don't do anything. You either do what you say you do or you don't. I think we are [doing what we say we do]."

Though Channel 4 did well this time around, Hefner knows a repeat performance in February is no sure thing.

"All three stations have known for some time it's a jump-ball market for news viewership," he said. "Everything is cut up into thirds. If preference is essentially equal, then other factors -- lead in or lead out, weather coverage, Sept. 11th -- have an impact. I think we will see this thing bounce around for a while until somebody either breaks through or makes a mistake."

Bettis scores

Many Pittsburgh viewers tuned in to see "The Late Show With David Letterman" on Tuesday to watch Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis.

"Letterman" drew a 26 share of the homes using television, double the share of its closest competitor, "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

It was the highest-rated "Late Show" on KDKA since Feb. 21, 2000, when Letterman returned after heart bypass surgery, which generated a 29 share.

Cell phone etiquette

Reporters take note: Turn off your cell phones in court, or at least set them to vibrate.

WPXI reporter Alan Jennings was asked to leave Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning's courtroom last week after his cell phone rang.

Manning said he has a rule, posted on a sign outside the courtroom, that anyone entering must turn off cell phones and pagers. If a lawyer violates his rule and a phone or beeper rings, he or she must donate $50 to charity. Any observers who violate Manning's rule are removed from the court for the day.

"But that's not fair to do to a news guy," Manning said. Instead, Jennings was asked to show the judge a check made out to a charity. Manning said Jennings chose Animal Angels to receive his contribution.

"If you can afford a cell phone, you can afford to contribute $50 to charity," Manning said. "It's a nice, gentle way of teaching a lesson."

Many others have learned the same "lesson," Manning said, including Channel 11 reporter Amy Marcinkiewicz.

"Alan was very courteous, and he always is," he said. "It was never a problem."

Jennings, who doesn't hesitate to chase down interview subjects on TV, did not return a call seeking comment.

Coming and going

This past summer, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon toured the set of UPN's "Enterprise" as wide-eyed as the reporters who tagged along during a UPN party. Turns out Whedon was doing research.

Fox has given the green light to 13 episodes of Whedon's "Firefly," which is set on a spaceship 500 years in the future. It's expected to premiere next fall.

Meanwhile, Whedon's "Angel" will get a double run next month on The WB, airing original episodes Monday at 9 p.m. with the same episode repeating Thursday at 8 p.m.

Other series, however, will cease to exist. It's expected that NBC will cancel low-rated first-year series "Emeril," "Inside Schwartz" and "UC: Undercover."


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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