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Tuned In: Ratings mean more to TV folks than to us

Thursday, December 25, 2003

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Lumps of coal? Shiny pres-ents? The Santa Claus of Nielsen Media Research didn't deliver either in the November demographic ratings. Mostly, it was same-old, same-old. Sort of like a fruitcake.

Why do TV stations care about demos? Because the household ratings are almost meaningless -- they're good for bragging rights only. Television advertising is bought and sold on demographics: age, gender, etc.

Generally speaking, the station with the youngest demos wins. Advertisers put a premium on young consumers, who they believe -- rightly or wrongly -- are less set in their buying patterns and more likely to try something new.

During last month's sweeps, a sample of local viewers' TV habits were measured. From this, Nielsen Media Research creates its much-vaunted ratings book. What it showed in November is little different from what it shows every sweeps period.

Just as it's a horse race in household ratings, it's tough competition in the demos. The only major difference is that KDKA has more viewers overall, but fewer younger viewers. In the demos, WPXI and WTAE were each on top in two of the six most prominent newscast time periods. KDKA was No. 1 at noon. All three stations had identical key demos at 6 p.m.

Compared to a year ago, changes were minor, no more than one point up or down in people 25-54 or women 25-54 in most major news time slots. WTAE is down in both demos at 6 a.m., KDKA is up in people, down in women.

At 4 p.m., WPXI and WTAE showed the most dramatic improvement, with WTAE up two points in women during "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Ratings for "Judge Judy" on WPXI were up, while KDKA's news held steady with the same ratings as a year ago. At 6 p.m., WPXI was down one point in people and KDKA was down one point in women.

At 11 p.m., KDKA was up one point in people and women from a year ago, while WPXI was down a point in people and held steady in women.

So what does this mean to you and me? Nothing. But it means the world to TV station executives and ad agency folks. Each ratings point comes with a dollar figure attached. For the rest of us, it's just trivia, and not particularly interesting trivia at that.

New face on KDKA

Sonni Abatta, a May graduate of Carnegie Mellon University who was hired by KDKA-TV this summer, has started to appear on the air. Monday she did morning weather reports.

In June, KDKA news director Al Blinke said Abatta might not appear on the air for a year, but on Monday he said that in the past six months "she's probably worked harder, covered more important stories -- even though you may not have seen her on air -- than anybody starting out in a small market."

Abatta was hired after two internships at the station, Blinke said. Her primary role will be as an on-air reporter.

'Dreamkeeper' delayed

ABC's poor "Dreamkeeper" can't catch any breaks. The miniseries about American Indian legends was originally supposed to premiere in the highly watched May sweeps. Then ABC bumped it to November sweeps before tossing it in the throwaway pile of the last weekend of December.

Local station WTAE does ABC one better, bumping Sunday's part one to 12:05 a.m. due to a Steelers game in prime time. Take note: That change in air time is not reflected in the cover story of Sunday's TV Week. Part two will air, as scheduled, at 9 p.m. Monday.

'Boomtown' back briefly

You're canceled! But Merry Christmas anyway!

NBC's acclaimed but canceled cop drama "Boomtown" returns so the network can burn off its remaining episodes this weekend. Three episodes air from 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday and one at 10 p.m. Sunday.

I guess fans should be grateful to be able to see these episodes, but the show's cancellation makes this last-ditch effort a little like a chunk of coal dressed up in really pretty wrapping paper.

New 'Harvey Birdman'

One of the funniest episodes of "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law" yet premieres as part of Cartoon Network's New Year's Eve Adult Swim lineup next week. It airs just after midnight at 12:15 a.m. Jan. 1.

In the episode, Harvey's controlling boss installs security cameras, ostensibly to protect the office from thieves, but really they're just to spy on his employees. And Harvey goes to court to defend Secret Squirrel, who is on trial for displaying the equipment he stores inside his trench coat.

This totally cracked, outrageously funny short is a great way for adults, who are kids at heart, to ring in the new year.

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to under TV Forum.

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