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Coverage of Verdicts Cuts Into Clinton’s L.A. Audience

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Southland television viewers voted with their remote controls for the O.J. Simpson case Tuesday, as many turned away from President Clinton’s State of the Union address to follow coverage of the verdicts in Simpson’s civil trial.

Local ratings issued Wednesday by Nielsen Media Research showed that viewing of Channels 2, 4 and 7 dropped around 6:15 p.m.--when the president began his speech--while Channels 5, 9 and 11, which stayed with their countdown to the verdicts, all posted considerable ratings gains.

KTLA-TV Channel 5 saw its ratings shoot from 6.5% of the market’s TV homes when the president started talking to 10.9% in the next 15 minutes. By contrast, top-rated KNBC-TV Channel 4 experienced a decline from 16.4% of homes to 13.1% around the time State of the Union coverage began.

Alternative channels, including cable, also rose nearly 30% locally during the Clinton address. Cable news outlets such as Fox News Channel and MSNBC continued to monitor the Simpson case.

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Overall, nearly 64% of all TV households in the Los Angeles-Orange County-Ventura County market were tuned to the seven VHF stations (Channels 2-13) when the verdicts were delivered. That was about 16% higher than the average in that hour last month, according to local research estimates.

The State of the Union attracted 26% of homes on the three major network outlets locally, which does not include viewing on public television station KCET-TV Channel 28 or CNN.

Station personnel were not surprised by audience interest in the verdicts.

“We knew what Clinton was going to say,” said one TV station source. “We didn’t know how [the trial] would turn out.”

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National ratings were not available because Clinton’s speech ran without commercials; however, results in the 35 major cities metered by Nielsen--which account for more than half of the nation’s households--demonstrated a similar trend, though network viewing was somewhat higher than here. The audience for ABC, CBS and NBC gradually declined as the speech began, which was after 9 p.m. in the Eastern time zone.

Meanwhile, NBC-owned cable channel CNBC, whose Simpson coverage was hosted by Geraldo Rivera, reported record viewing Tuesday, reaching nearly 2 million homes nationally during prime time.

Lingering interest in news coverage related to the Simpson case could be a boon to local stations, who are a week into the February ratings sweeps--a monthlong survey used to help negotiate advertising rates.


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