Olympics, storms boost local newscast ratings

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Winter storms and the Olympic Games kept television viewers parked on the sofa in February—driving up ratings for local newscasts compared with the same month of 2013.

The Indianapolis station enjoying the biggest bump was WTHR-TV Channel 13, whose network affiliate NBC and some of its own staff covered the games in Sochi, Russia. The station already leads the market in news ratings across most time slots.

WTHR enjoyed the largest spike at 11 p.m., with its newscast that followed Olympics coverage rising 44 percent, to a 10.1 rating, from the same month last year.

WTHR ratingsIt’s not hard to see why, as the prime-time Olympics viewership immediately before WTHR’s 11 p.m. news was gigantic—at a 16.2 share, up 277 percent from the primetime period in 2013.

The sample was from the broadest demographic of viewers.
A rating is the estimated percentage of TV households tuned to a particular station as compiled by Nielsen. Local stations provided overall household ratings numbers to IBJ.

WTHR also appeared to receive a bump from Olympics coverage in the early mornings that carried into its 5 a.m. newscast, which was up 111 percent over the same month last year, at a rating of 4.

But most all local stations saw growth in newscast ratings last month, in large part due to winter storms that created an appetite for forecasts, cancellation information and traffic conditions.

“We had, what, three or four major snowstorms or weather events in January and February? People were watching more. The weather definitely had some impact,” said Paul Montgomery, director of audience development at WRTV-TV Channel 6.

The ABC affiliate, which in recent years has trailed other stations in news ratings, made some big gains in February. Ratings rose 20 percent at 5 a.m. WRTV had the biggest gain of all local stations at 6 p.m.—up 24 percent to a 4.1 rating. That was behind WTHR’s 12.5 and WISH’s 5.1 rating.

Last year, WRTV rebuilt its morning newscasts, adding more news on weekends and a number of new producers and reporters. It also brought in the new anchor duo of Beth Vaughn and Marc Mullins.

Local Fox affiliate WXIN-TV Channel 59 had the biggest overall ratings gain at 5 p.m., up 22 percent.

WXIN has the market’s only 4 p.m. newscast, and the rating in that slot jumped 59 percent, to 5.4.

Until WTHR recently added an earlier newscast in early mornings, WXIN also was the only station to offer local news at 4 a.m.  WXIN, better known as Fox 59, last year ran an aggressive billboard campaign around town depicting its news team in fashion magazine-style black-and-white images.

“We have more local news than anyone else in the market and together with our marketing efforts, we continue to build viewer awareness, trust and credibility,” said news director Kerri Cavanaugh.

CBS affiliate WISH-TV Channel 8 also saw gains in the February 2013-February 2014 period, except at 11 p.m., when ratings dropped 25 percent. That might be tied to WTHR’s Olympics-drive audience and because those ratings may have been cannibalized by its 10 p.m. newcast on sister station WNDY-TV Channel 23.  The 10 p.m. newscast on WNDY soared 30 percent during February.

WISH news director Steve Bray attributed ratings gains in part to investigative pieces WISH ran in February, including a report that found hundreds of sex offenders illegally living too close to schools, parks and daycare centers.

One of the more competitive periods shaping up is at 4 a.m., with WTHR’s recent entrance to challenge WXIN at that hour.

Ratings in this groggy-eyed time slot appear neck-and-neck already. WTHR’s director of creative services, Clyde Becker, said the station in its first three weeks at 4 a.m. has averaged a rating of 1.4. (that’s 15,550 homes) versus 1.3 for Fox 59 (14,400 homes).

At IBJ deadline, only limited ratings data was available on viewers in the age 25-54 demographic carefully watched by advertisers. In this demographic, the biggest gain at 6 p.m. came for WXIN, whose eyeball count rose 39 percent, to a rating of 1.8 

That was followed by WISH, up 35 percent to a 2.3 rating. WRTV saw a 10-percent increase, to a 1.1 rating.

WTHR was down 4 percent at 6 p.m., to a 4.7 rating, though maintained its lead over competitors.

Adding news programming can be a way for a station to better wring its money’s worth from its news team. Local newscasts also can appeal to certain kinds of advertisers and can be cheaper than buying syndicated programming.

If this growing buffet of local news seems less satisfying, however, there may be good reason.

A Pew Research Center study of television news found that the amount of time devoted to edited story packages was on the decline, along with story length, between 2005 and 2012, “signs that there is less in-depth journalism being produced.”

Pew also said coverage of politics and government dropped more than 50 percent. It’s a troubling trend in a country where a free press was designated as a way to hold its government accountable, the report said.

 “Traffic, weather and sports—the kind of information now available on demand in a variety of digital platforms—seems to be making up an ever larger component of the local news menu,” said Pew’s 2013 State of the News Media Report.


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  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

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