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Winner’s Circle

WLEX grabs top ratings in news race 2/27/2005 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Sweeps Stories

Sweeps Stories

For February sweeps, two Lexington, Ky., stations seized the opportunity to tie hit network shows into unconventional local news stories.

CBS affiliate WKYT went with reliable star Survivor. An 11 p.m. news story spotlighted Colonel Jack, a local resident trying out for the endurance-testing reality show. “When it comes to dealing with people, I’m slicker than deer guts on a doorknob,” Jack told the station.

NBC’s new drama Medium inspired local affiliate WLEX to feature area psychics who communicate with the dead, much like Patricia Arquette’s character on the show. While it made for an interesting story, WLEX Vice President/General Manager Tim Gilbert says his station tries not to overdose on sweeps-mania.

“I’m not a big believer in tricky stories for sweeps,” Gilbert says. “We want to act like we’re in a ratings period all year long.” —A.R.

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Sweeps Stories

In Lexington, Ky., home of thoroughbred racehorses and bluegrass tunes, there is a new champion in local news. In November 2004, for the first time in 28 years, WLEX, Cordillera Communication’s NBC affiliate, won top ratings in early morning, early evening, 11 p.m. and weekend news. Gray Television’s CBS affiliate WKYT, its rival and former top news station, prevailed at noon. “We’ve worked hard to deliver a product that resonates with the market,” says WLEX President Tim Gilbert.

Part of the station’s success is due to the rejiggering of its format. When Cordillera Communications bought WLEX in late 1999, the station had an unusual news lineup: It delayed Nightly News until 7 p.m. to run an hour-long 6 p.m. newscast. By 2000, WLEX opted for a traditional 90-minute news block from 5 to 6:30, running Nightly News live. The station installed a “Coverage You Can Count On” mantra and promoted relentlessly. Now, it can hype its top-rated news.

For the 64th-largest TV market, Lexington boasts a dynamic local TV battle. WKYT remains the overall ratings leader, primed by CBS’ strong lineup. Media General-owned ABC affiliate WTVQ, third-placed in news and overall, is mounting an offensive. In the last 18 months, the station installed a fresh evening news team and recruited news director Tai Takahashi, formerly executive producer of news and special coverage for KOMO Seattle. It also upgraded its weather technology and, in October 2004, WTVQ introduced “Action News” branding. “We need to focus on getting the right product out,” says VP/GM Mike Pimentel. WKYT produces the 10 p.m. news for Sinclair Broadcasting’s Fox affiliate WDKY.

The challenge for stations: covering a far-flung, economically diverse region. “The old joke was Lexington was horses, whiskey and tobacco,” says Gilbert. “Now it’s a great deal more.” The Lexington market includes 40 counties, ranging from coal-mining towns in Appalachia to wealthy Kentucky horse country. Frankfurt, the state capital, is also in the market. The University of Kentucky is a nerve center and the city’s major employer. “UK sporting events are the biggest events in town,” says Pimentel. Printer manufacturer Lexmark is based here and Toyota has a large plant nearby.

The economic mix helps stabilize the local economy. TV stations will earn $67.8 million in revenue in 2005, up slightly from $66.8 million last year, according to BIA Financial. The ad market should grow in the low single digits over 2004, excluding political, station execs say.

WLEX is continuing its assault on the market. Halfway through February, the station was holding its November gains.

But don’t expect a big celebration if WLEX wins a second-straight sweeps. After last November’s victory, says Gilbert, “We had some ice cream in the newsroom and went back to work.”

The Demos
Who Share of population Index*
*Index is a measurement of consumer likelihood. An index of 100 indicates that the market is on par with the average of the 75 local markets.
Source: Scarborough Release 1 2004 75 Markets Report (Feb. 03- March 04)
Age 18 - 34 33% 107
Age 18 - 49 61% 99
Age 25 - 54 57% 98
College grad 18% 73
White 93% 112
Black 5% 44
Hispanic 2% 16
Asian 1% 29
$100K+ HH 9% 54
$50K+ HH 36% 74
Below $50K HH 64% 124

Sweeps Stories

Sweeps Stories

For February sweeps, two Lexington, Ky., stations seized the opportunity to tie hit network shows into unconventional local news stories.

CBS affiliate WKYT went with reliable star Survivor. An 11 p.m. news story spotlighted Colonel Jack, a local resident trying out for the endurance-testing reality show. “When it comes to dealing with people, I’m slicker than deer guts on a doorknob,” Jack told the station.

NBC’s new drama Medium inspired local affiliate WLEX to feature area psychics who communicate with the dead, much like Patricia Arquette’s character on the show. While it made for an interesting story, WLEX Vice President/General Manager Tim Gilbert says his station tries not to overdose on sweeps-mania.

“I’m not a big believer in tricky stories for sweeps,” Gilbert says. “We want to act like we’re in a ratings period all year long.” —A.R.

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