Experts say Buchman’s move to WTHR could lift station’s ratings

WTHR-TV Channel 13’s hiring of meteorologist Angela Buchman from rival WISH-TV Channel 8 could give the station’s evening newscasts a ratings bump among the 25-54 audience, which is abandoning local TV news in alarming numbers.

Ratings for the May sweeps period for the demographic most coveted by advertisers were released by New York-based Nielsen Media Research on Wednesday, and the results indicate trouble for the four major local stations.

WTHR again retained its position during the period as the most-watched station for news in central Indiana among the 25-54 audience. But its ratings from last May fell 34.3 percent at 5 p.m., 16.3 percent at 6 p.m. and 17.8 percent at 11 p.m.

Its ratings slide at 5 p.m. can be directly attributed to the loss of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which aired from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. before going off the air in May 2011. Year-over-year, WTHR’s audience for the 4 p.m. slot—now occupied by “The Dr. Oz Show"—plummeted 58 percent.

Despite WTHR’s challenges, the station’s newscast at 5 p.m. earned a 2.3 rating, topping WISH’s 1.4 rating, WXIN-TV Channel 59’s 1.3 and WRTV-TV Channel 6’s 0.9 rating. Each rating point equals 10,720 central Indiana households.

WTHR, an NBC affiliate, also won the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. timeslots by wide margins.

Still, the stations should be concerned about the loss of viewers younger than 54, said Rick Doyle, media director of Indianapolis-based MZD Advertising.

“I think it’s been fairly common knowledge that the networks are fighting more and more over diminishing audiences,” he said. “Even television stations are now offering apps for the phone. In some ways they’re their own worst enemy, because everyone wants to be the primary news source.”

Although Buchman’s imminent move to WTHR won’t have a huge impact on ratings, experts say, it should provide some relief from further slides.

IBJ reported the move on Wednesday. John Cardenas, WTHR’s vice president and general manager, declined to comment on Buchman’s pending arrival. WISH General Manager Jeff White did not return calls seeking comment.

Sources say Buchman’s contract at WISH expires this summer. A non-compete clause likely would keep her from appearing on-air for another station in the Indianapolis market for one year from the date of the contract’s expiration. Such clauses are typical for the industry, but it wasn't immediately clear whether this was the case fror Buchman and WISH.

The wait for the popular weatherwoman could be worth it for WTHR, said Bill Perkins, president of Indianapolis-based media-buying firm Perkins Nichols Media.

“If the news is the same, it’s a question of the personalities,” he said. “And the weatherperson is one of the personalities that affect viewers’ attitudes.”

Luring Buchman away from WISH won’t be cheap, however. Industry experts said the offer would have been in the neighborhood of $400,000 to get her to make the jump. Stations typically pay new hires with non-compete clauses during the time they’re not working, too.

“When you talk about the anchor, sports and weather, that’s the big three,” said Bruce Bryant, founder of Indianapolis-based Promotus Advertising. “A good, popular weather talent certainly can help your ratings.”

At 11 p.m., WTHR’s newscast earned a 3.7 rating among the 25-54 audience, besting WISH’s 2.5 and WRTV’s 1.7. WTHR’s 17.8 percent slide at 11 p.m. was lower than both WISH’s and WRTV’s decrease of 34.2 percent and 32 percent, respectively.

Fox59’s 10 p.m. news had a 3.9 rating, a fall off from last May of just 2.5 percent.

WTHR also won the 6 p.m. timeslot, with a 3.6 rating, topping WISH’s 1.3 and WRTV’s 1.2 in the 25-54 demographic.

WISH’s rating at 5 p.m. dropped 17.6 percent and 40.9 percent at 6 p.m. year-over year, while WRTV experienced a ratings decrease of 18.2 percent at 5 p.m. and 41.7 percent at 6 p.m.

Nielsen has sweeps periods in February, May, July and November, and ratings during those periods set television advertising rates. Advertising during local TV newscasts make up 40 percent to 60 percent of a local station’s revenue.

Overall, Perkins said, the stations’ ratings for the May sweeps among the key demographic were “just awful.”

“Channel 13 is doing a better job than the other guys, but it’s nothing like it used to be,” he said. “It seems to be a general problem.”

Fox59 earned a 0.7 rating, a year-over-year decrease of 41.7 percent, for its 4 p.m. news and a 1.3 at 5 p.m., a drop of 27.8 percent.

Fox59 was particularly strong in the mornings. The audience for its 4:30 a.m. news increased 66.7 percent year-over-year and 44.4 percent at 5 a.m., leading its three competitors at that hour with a 1.3 rating. Fox59 dropped 12 percent at 7 a.m. and 17.6 percent at 9 a.m., however.

WTHR led at 6 a.m., with a 3 rating, followed by Fox59’s 2.7, WISH’s 1.9 and WRTV’s 1.3. WRTV’s rating represented an 18.2 percent increase year-over-year.

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