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Hanging Tough in Motown

Detroit weathers auto woes and Nielsen's new system 7/14/2006 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Local broadcasters in Detroit are adjusting to life with Nielsen Media Research's controversial local people meters (LPMs). The electronic-measurement system, which launched here at the beginning of the year, has wreaked havoc on several markets due to its initial effect on ratings. But station executives in Nielsen's No. 11 market say the transition has been fairly painless.

Detroit is one of 10 markets currently operating with LPMs, which capture demographic data daily and dispense with the old paper diaries. LPMs generally report increased TV viewing, likely due to the electronic pickup on viewing that respondents may have forgotten to log in their diaries. Unfortunately, that often means increased cable viewership but lower ratings for broadcast affiliates.

While LPM results have shaken up affiliates' standing in some markets, Detroit's experience has been more moderate. “We've seen some reduction in broadcast viewership, but far less than other LPM markets,” says Steve Wasserman, general manager for NBC affiliate WDIV. “Our rankings against the competition have stayed the same.”

With year-round ratings, stations here are looking to abandon the sweeps cycle of news and promotion but not their competitive drive. “There is a strong appetite for news here,” says WJBK General Manager Jeff Murri, whose Fox-owned station wins in early morning and has added 11 a.m. news, as well as expanded weekend morning shows. WDIV is top-rated in late news, while ABC affiliate WXYZ wins early evenings. All post strong ratings. The CBS-owned WWJ does not carry news.

Several stations are mixing up their syndication lineups. WWJ is adding talk show Dr. Phil, currently on WDIV, for a double run at 3 and 7 p.m. WDIV will replace Phil with The Rachael Ray Show and pick up The Megan Mullally Show and The Greg Behrendt Show. WJBK is adding Dr. Keith Ablow and Cristina's Court.

With the local economy so tied to the auto industry, car companies' woes have rippled through the market. But while job loss has curtailed spending and depressed the housing market, Detroit's affluent Oakland County continues to drive strong retail advertising on TV.

Stations took in $355.3 million in 2005, according to BIA Financial. This year is expected to be stronger, due in large part to the Detroit-hosted Super Bowl and the political season. Gubernatorial and Senate campaigns, as well as issue money, are expected to funnel up to $30 million into TV ads.

All cause for optimism, says WXYZ General Manager Grace Gilchrist, “It may not be the national perception, but we're doing all right.”

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