Steep declines in viewership caused most morning and late-night local newscasts' ratings to tumble during the May "sweeps"
period, compared with the same time last year.
WTHR-TV Channel 13 retained its position as the most-watched station for news in central Indiana, even though viewership declined in several time slots by double-digit percentages. But WXIN-TV Channel 59 is bucking the trend, improving its morning news viewership in all its morning time slots.
The dropoff for WTHR was most evident in the morning, when its newscasts that begin airing at 4:30 a.m. registered decreases of up to 47 percent. The NBC affiliate recorded a 4.9 rating, which translates to 18 percent of the television-viewing audience, to outpace the other three local news programs during the 6 a.m. hour. Each rating point represents 10,720 households.
Yet the morning newscast is off 34.1 percent from the same month last year, when WTHR recorded a 7.5 rating, attracting 26 percent of TV viewers. And its 4:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. time slots registered even greater drops.
WTHR’s slip has allowed competitors WISH-TV Channel 8, WRTV-TV Channel 6 and WXIN to narrow the gap and, in a few instances, even tie or surpass the station. WISH and WRTV made strides simply by losing fewer viewers than WTHR, while WXIN’s morning audience is on the rise.
“There are always going to be dips and valleys when you look at these ratings,” acknowledged Jeff Dutton, WTHR’s creative services director. “Our plan is to stay the course and try to widen that lead in the next period, which is July.”
Sweeps occur four times a year, although the spring and fall periods in May and November are the most important to advertisers.
In the 6 a.m. hour, WISH, a CBS affiliate, closely trailed WTHR with a 4.6 rating, down just 5 percent from last May. ABC station WRTV’s 1.9 rating was 24 percent lower than the year-ago period, while WXIN, a Fox affiliate, had more to cheer about.
Its 2.9 rating was up 8.4 percent from last May—and was just one of several viewership increases the station’s newscasts registered in the May sweeps period.
“It’s clear there is a major shift in the morning news viewing landscape in Indianapolis,” WXIN News Director Lee Rosenthal said. “To be the only station growing … shows viewers now believe Fox59 Morning News is the place to turn when they wake up.”
WXIN’s audience at 4:30 a.m. increased 43.9 percent, while its 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. newscasts attracted 64.3 percent and 67.5 percent more viewers, respectively.
The station’s 1.3 rating at 4:30 a.m. tied WTHR for the lead, and its 1.8 at 5 a.m. came close to the 1.9 WISH and WTHR both recorded.
WISH, though, posted viewership decreases of 35.8 percent at 4:30 a.m., 25.9 percent at 5 a.m., and 18.5 percent at 5:30 a.m.
Jeff White, WISH president and general manager, attributed the declines to the transition from analog to digital television last year, which might have made it more difficult for some viewers to get the station’s signal. Further, he said WISH posted better numbers in the fall.
“We’ve grown or held our audience from our November book,” White said. “That’s a good indicator for me.”
WRTV, meanwhile, boasted a 30-percent increase at 4:30 a.m., even though its rating was just a 1.0. Viewership was down 20.8 percent at 5 a.m. and 23.5 percent at 5:30 a.m.
An overall dip in television viewership last month in central Indiana, coupled with a lack of compelling news stories, likely contributed to the sagging numbers, said Paul Montgomery, WRTV’s director of audience development.
“There wasn’t one major driver,” he said. “With the exception of Fox 59, everybody was down.”
Bill Perkins, president of Indianapolis-based media-buying firm Perkins Nichols Media, is taking notice. He said his company purchased more spots for clients on WXIN’s morning news programs than it ever has in the past.
“It’s all live and local,” Perkins said. “There’s some merit to that.”
With a 3.7 rating in the 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. time slot, WXIN’s local news bested both "Good Morning America" airing on WRTV and "The Early Show" on WISH. WTHR maintained its lead during the two hours with "The Today Show," although its rating fell to 4.7 from 6.7 since last May.
WXIN is IBJ's news-gathering partner.