Storms, sports kept viewers glued to local news in February

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

The station enjoying the biggest bump was WTHR-TV Channel 13, whose network affiliate NBC covered the games from Sochi.  The station already had led 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.  The sample was from a broad demographic of viewers.

A rating is the estimated percentage of TV households tuned to a particular station as compiled by Nielsen. Local stations provided those 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.  It 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 and added more news on weekends. It also added a number of new producers and reporters and 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 rating of 5.4.

Until WTHR recently added an earlier newscast 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 that depicted 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 enjoyed ratings gains in the February 2013-February 2014 period, except at 11 p.m.  Perhaps that’s because it runs an earlier late-news show at 10 p.m. on sister station WNDY-TV Channel 23, for which ratings increased 30 percent during the February period.

WISH news director Steve Bray attributed ratings gains also to investigative pieces WISH ran in February, including a report that found hundreds of sex offenders illegally living too close to schools, parts 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) vs. 1.3 for Fox 59 (14,400 homes). It’s too early to declare a winner of this too-early time slot, however.

 Increasing news programming can be a way for a local 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 has been on the decline, along with story length, in the period between 2005 and 2012, “signs that there is less in-depth journalism being produced.”

Pew also said coverage of politics and government dropped by more than 50 percent– perhaps a blow to government accountability as intended under a free press. 

“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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