The return of anchorwoman Christine Lund helped KABC Channel 7 jump ahead in the local afternoon news race in what has become a see-saw war with former champion KNBC Channel 4, according to ratings for the November sweeps released Thursday by the A.C. Nielsen Co.
Lund, the anchor superstar who re-emerged this month at Channel 7 after a four-year absence, boosted the station to victory for her 4 p.m. newscast by more than 40,000 households over Channel 4. A year ago, Channel 4 had won this time period by about 80,000 homes.
With Lund, KABC increased its viewership over last year by about 90,000 households to 362,000, although some of that upsurge could also be attributed to the large audience increase enjoyed by “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which leads-in to the Channel 7 newscast.
“Her fans are still out there and they came back to find her,” Roger Bell, KABC’s news director, said Thursday of Lund’s impact on the station’s ratings. But Bell also insisted that the gains reflect a trend that began earlier in the year in response to what he called an improved overall news product.
“You will recall that we had (ratings) books in the past when numbers weren’t so good and we had (most of the same) really good anchors then,” Bell added. “It’s not just the anchors. You have to have a good product around them.”
KABC also won at 5 p.m. by a small margin, while KNBC squeaked to victory at 6 p.m., according to Nielsen. In the rival Arbitron ratings service, KABC tied KNBC at 6 p.m. and scored decisive victories at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
At 11 p.m., KNBC’s newscast was able to widen its hefty lead over all rivals in both ratings services.
The ratings skid for Channel 4’s 2 1/2-hour afternoon news block first surfaced in the sweeps month last May, when KABC overtook it at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. KNBC regained the lead in all news time periods during the summer, but then this month--despite sensationalistic feature series on such topics as sex on the daytime soaps and aphrodisiacs--the station again saw its audience switch elsewhere in huge chunks. Nielsen numbers for Channel 4’s afternoon block read like statistics in the California housing market: at 4 p.m., down 30,000 homes from a year ago; at 5 p.m., down 78,000; at 6 p.m., down 100,000--about 25%.
KNBC spokeswoman Regina Miyamoto explained the station’s decline by saying that “Donahue,” the lead-in to the afternoon newscasts, was down a bit while “Oprah” showed big gains.
She also said that the severe ratings decline suffered by NBC’s “Today” show early this year has hurt Channel 4’s entire daytime schedule, so that the station’s on-air promos for its newscasts are not reaching as many people as they once did. Furthermore, she said, many viewers who once watched “Today” before work and then left the house with the TV tuned to Channel 4, now have their sets tuned elsewhere when they switch them on after work. “Today’s” local ratings were down about 50,000 homes from a year ago.
Miyamoto also pointed out that Channel 4 had made significant strides at 11 p.m. and had again won a decisive victory over its two rivals in the 6 a.m. news battle.
KCBS Channel 2 once again finished third in news among the three network-owned stations, losing large chunks of audience from a year ago in the afternoon, according to Nielsen.
With new anchor Michael Tuck facing his first sweeps in Los Angeles, KCBS’ 6 p.m. newscast dropped more than 55,000 viewers from a year ago. On the other hand, the station’s 11 p.m. newscast showed an increase of about 45,000 viewers in Arbitron’s ratings.
The loss of audience has been a continuing problem for the local afternoon newscasts for more than a year, as competition from the independent stations and Spanish-language broadcasters has proved formidable. This month, the audience for the three Spanish-language stations--KMEX Channel 34, KVEA Channel 52 and KWHY Channel 22--grew 23% over last November. From 9 a.m. to midnight, the three stations were watched by an average of 216,000 homes, up nearly 40,000 from the year before.
Reruns of “Hunter” on KTLA Channel 5 again dominated the 6-7 p.m. period this month. The show added some 40,000 households to its total of last November, beating the local and national newscasts on Channels 2, 4 and 7. How strong is “Hunter”? More than 200,000 more homes tuned in for the veteran cop show than tuned in for Dan Rather and “The CBS Evening News.”
The combined audience of the three national newscasts at 6:30 p.m. on the three network-owned stations is about twice as large as the audience for “Hunter,” however. Still, more people are watching rerun entertainment fare on the four independent stations than watch the three network newscasts, by a wide margin.
KTLA’s long-dominant 10 p.m. newscast lost some of its audience for the first time in many years. Hal Fishman and his colleagues still won the time period over three other newscasts--with about 32,000 fewer viewers than the year before, according to Nielsen. KTTV Channel 11 was second, but still trailed by about 70,000 homes. KCAL Channel 9 was a distant third, while KCOP Channel 13’s new anchor and management team fell to fourth. In Arbitron’s count, KCOP was third and KCAL was fourth, and KTLA’s lead over KTTV was 135,000 homes.
For its three hours of prime-time news, KCAL averaged about 140,000 out of Los Angeles’ 5 million households, a slight improvement over its showing last May.
Nationally, NBC squeaked out its 11th consecutive sweeps victory in the most competitive season since 1984, despite dropping two full ratings points from last November. NBC averaged a 13.1 rating in prime time for the month to ABC’s 12.8, CBS’ 12.1 and Fox’s 6.6. (Each rating point represents 931,000 homes.)
Bob Niles, NBC’s vice president of research, rejoiced at the victory and explained that the drop in ratings stems from the massive schedule changes--nine new series and four time-slot moves for continuing series--that the network made this fall.
Though CBS trailed, the race between the three major networks is now “so close that a victory in the sweeps comes down to special events--whose movie beats whose movie,” said David Poltrack, CBS’ vice president for planning and research.
Overall, however, ratings for the three networks in November was 6% lower than a year ago. And viewing levels for the month’s 10 top-rated series were down 11% from the previous year.
In other sweeps highs and lows (using Nielsen numbers, unless otherwise indicated, with each local rating point equaling 50,263 homes):
* “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on KABC crushed all of its talk-show competitors, scoring a 8.2 rating at 3 p.m. against “Donahue’s” 5.1 on KNBC and “Joan Rivers’ ” 2.3 on KCBS. “Geraldo” at 4 p.m. on KCBS grabbed a 5.2 rating, while “Sally Jesse Raphael” registered a 3.8 at 2 p.m. on KCAL.
* KABC is also the morning talk champ as “A.M. Los Angeles” scored a 3.1 rating at 9 a.m. KNBC’s block of “Kelly and Gail” and “Marsha Warfield” managed only a 1.8 while “Regis and Kathie Lee” scored a 1.6 for KCAL. Game shows on Channel 2 actually won the hour with a 3.3 rating, while reruns of “I Love Lucy” on KTTV tied “A.M. Los Angeles” for second.
* KNBC dominated the early morning news battle, grabbing a 4.2 rating and 27% of all those watching television between 6-7 a.m. KABC scored a 2.7 for its half-hour newscast at 6:30 a.m., while KCBS nabbed a 1 for its broadcast at 6 a.m.
* Sitcom Mania: Expensive reruns of network sitcoms, which several station managers claim lure the younger demographics that advertisers prize, fared a bit better this month. “Cosby” on KCOP came in second in its 7 p.m. time period behind “Entertainment Tonight” on KNBC, beating “Wheel of Fortune” on KCBS and “Inside Edition” on KABC. Reruns of “Growing Pains” also made a strong showing for KCOP at 6:30 p.m., knocking off all three network newscasts and all other competitors except “Hunter.”
* “Jeopardy!” on KCBS won the highly competitive 7:30 p.m. time period over KNBC’s “Hard Copy.” These two shows, with 10.1 and 9.5 ratings respectively, finished as the two highest-rated programs outside of prime time. KTTV’s “A Current Affair” slipped into a distant third-place tie with reruns of “The Golden Girls” on Channel 9.
* “The Tonight Show” on KNBC is still the king of late night with a 5.3 rating and a 20% share of the audience. “Arsenio Hall” on KCOP scored a 3.9 rating and attracted 11% of the viewers while “David Letterman” managed a 3.4 rating and a 20 share at 12:30 a.m. on KNBC. “Into the Night” with Rick Dees scored a 2.3 rating and a 10 share at midnight on KABC. Reruns of “Cheers” on Channel 5 at 11 p.m. outscored all the late-night talk shows except for “The Tonight Show.”