You can come out of your shelters now, readers. Cut the sirens. The November "sweeps" period has ended. Your local television newscast will begin acting "normally" again.
With the shuffling of personnel in the crucial weathercasting sweepstakes over the past year (bye-bye, Trish Brown) and the assembly of what appears to be a sensible new team at KDNL (Channel 30), it appeared that some shifting of ground in a ratings war dominated by KSDK (Channel 5) might actually occur.
If the November sweeps is any indication, fugedabadit. KSDK once again swept the field in all but one of the time periods in which it ran a newscast, posting its heaviest leads on second-place KMOV in the 5 p.m. and the 10 p.m. newscasts. KSDK's ratings at 6 a.m. are also strong -- with a five-point ratings lead over KMOV and a whopping 39 share in that time period.
There is a bright light for KMOV in two time periods, however. The battle of noon newscasts turned out to be a virtual dead heat, with both stations sitting at seven ratings points. KMOV also inched up two ratings points at 6 p.m. from the May 1998 ratings (13 from the previous 11) and closed to within three ratings points of KSDK in that period. (Reflecting on KMOV's "It's time to choose" ad campaign, it appears that noon and 6 p.m. are the times that KMOV viewers are choosing.)
November also had some news that KDNL could give thanks about. Their newscasts at 5 p.m. and at 10 p.m. both showed small increments of growth. (Is that a Patrick Emory bump I'm feeling?) The bigger news for KDNL is that it supplanted KTVI (Channel 2) at 10 p.m. as the No. 3 newscast in that time slot, beating out Channel 2 by a single ratings and share point.
KTVI lost ground in a number of spots in November, but one ratings success that their news operation had during this sweeps period was at 5 p.m. KTVI's newscast jumped two full ratings points and four share points from May of this year.
That's the immediate news, but what about the long-term trends? Glancing at the November sweeps from one year ago, there are some notable points to make:
* Everyone's losing share. KSDK has stayed dominant, but the station has lost share points in every time period but the 10 p.m. news. Since last year, the station has bled five share points at 6 a.m., four share points at 5 p.m. and five share points at 6 p.m. With some niggling exceptions consisting of a share point here and there, that's also true for every other local news station. Ratings may have been maintained, but they represent a smaller share of the total St. Louis audience.
* There's no clear movement in the KMOV/KSDK battle. Yes, KMOV has finally caught KSDK at noon, but that was a victory of one ratings point over the entire year. The gap between the two bitter rivals stayed at five ratings points at 5 p.m. and widened at 10 p.m to four points from three in November 1997. The biggest KMOV movement on KSDK over the past year has been at 6 p.m., when the gap of six ratings points last year has been halved to three points.
* "Staying Alive." KDNL used November to dig out of a pit that it dug for itself in May, but the station has shown no growth over the entire year. Its 5 p.m. newscasts stayed flat at three ratings points, and its move up in pecking order at 10 p.m. came more from KTVI weakness than any growth in its own newscast. And KDNL's Home Improvement repeats at 6 p.m. still double the ratings of the station's 5 p.m. newscast. KTVI had a dismal book overall, either staying flat or losing a single digit in every time period.
AIRPORT SICKNESS: We've just come through a long Thanksgiving weekend, and you know what that means. Turkey, gravy, football and endless media obsession with the airport. The fact that this was the mildest and most storm-free Thanksgiving that I can remember didn't keep television stations and the local newspaper from giving us every detail about such highly notable facts as "Many people travel over Thanksgiving weekend" and "Expect delays" and "Arrive early."
Though my own travel plans this weekend were merely figuring out new and inventive ways to navigate the 20 steps from the couch to the refrigerator, I can only imagine the ruckus that was created at Lambert Airport by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's "Lambert Field scavenger hunt." The paper's contest no doubt sent kiddies dashing through metal detectors and running around the concourses trying to answer questions like "How much is a one-way adult MetroLink ticket from the airport?" The winner, of course, receives "a set of Mark McGwire full-color posters." Runners-up got a more useful reward -- a Post-Dispatch travel mug.
You can e-mail media tips and quips to Richard Byrne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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