Growing Ratings Despite (Because Of?) Down Economy

Nielsen Provides Audience Analysis for 56 TV News Markets 3/04/2009 04:05:07 PM Eastern

Amid all the worries about the health of the TV news business, dozens of local newscasts have managed to achieve year-over-year ratings growth of more than 20 percent, according to an analysis by Nielsen and Broadcasting & Cable.

In November, the Associated Press reported that tough economic news is good for evening newscasts, noting that in January the CBS, ABC, and NBC newscasts each captured their highest ratings in years as viewers tuned in for the start of a new presidency and to get the latest on the state of the economy.

We asked whether local newscasts were sharing in that ratings boost, and Nielsen produced a custom ratings report comparing newscasts in 56 metered markets for the “early fringe” time of the evening during November. The chart below is limited to stations that achieved a rating of at least 5 (5% of the total viewing “universe” for their market).

There were some other newscasts that showed higher percentage increases, but from a smaller base, like the 5 p.m. newscast at KTVU Channel 2 in San Francisco, which grew from a 1.1 to a 2.2 rating between November 2007 and November 2008, an 82% improvement.
Nielsen’s report also showed gains of as much as 42% for newscasts airing on KFOR in Oklahoma City, but General Manager Jim Boyer said the figures were distorted by errors in Nielsen’s reporting for the earlier period. When Nielsen stopped under-counting his audience, the numbers improved, but in reality viewership has not experienced a big jump, Boyer said. So KFOR was also eliminated from the rankings shown above.
WJLA in Washington, D.C., saw a 42% jump in its November ratings, fueled in part by interest in the election and its aftermath (it shares its newsroom with Allbritton sibling The Politico), going from 3.6 to 5.1 for its 6 p.m. newscast. Its market share for that period also improved from 8% to 10%.
Another of the big gainers, WISH in Indianapolis, saw a 27% increase in the ratings for its 5 p.m. newscast, which went from a 4.5 to 5.7. Market share made an even bigger move, rising from 9% to 12%. WISH General Manager Jeff White said interest in news about the economy and Obama’s election helped but “probably the most important was the sheer fact of good momentum here on the product overall. We’ve seen really good growth in our morning news and late news, and that in turn has stimulated our early news.”
White makes the case that television is still a strong medium, despite the economic headwinds stations are battling. Between 2000 and 2007, WISH viewership rose 20% for the 6 a.m. newscast and 13% for the 5 p.m. newscast. The 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts were also up 7% over that period. For comparison, growth in the adult population for the viewing area rose 9% over those years.
“Over those years, a lot of things have changed. Our market is more fragmented today than it ever has been. But people are still coming to their local television station, and it's still the number one [news] source,” White said.