Downturn continues for local news

'Millionaire' keeps KABC in green

The just-concluded November sweeps saw the recent downward drift in Los Angeles news ratings continue, with KABC the only English-lingo station to consistently buck the gloomy trend.

Alphabet flagship had a million-dollar month, with all three of its early evening newscasts winning their respective timeslot with double-digit aud increases vs. year-ago averages, according to Nielsen. With “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” scoring boffo primetime numbers, KABC also snagged bragging rights in the total day ratings race.

The usually dominant KNBC had reason to crow as well, crushing the competish in the increasingly brutal 5-7 a.m. morning wars and in the high-profile 11 p.m. late news battle.

Losing viewers

Despite some upbeat signs, however, most local newscasts are still bleeding viewers.

At 4 p.m., for example, KNBC (4.5/11) lost a quarter of its November 1998 aud, while at 6 p.m, KCBS (2.1/4) continued its slide to obsolescence in the L.A. market with another 22% dive below last November’s already dismal perf.

Even the ayem, where viewership has been climbing steadily in recent year, has been impacted by the ratings slide. At 6 a.m., for example, three of the five local English-lingo stations that compete for news viewers either lost viewers or stayed flat.

KABC soars in sweeps

KABC’s newcasts, by contrast, soared during the sweep. Except for its 11 p.m. newscast, which fell a scant 1%, all of KABC’s news broadcasts showed double-digit gains. Its highly promoted 6 a.m. news had the best month, surging 43% vs. November 1998 and rocketing from fourth place to second behind slot leader KNBC.

The 6 a.m. surge helped KABC’s “Good Morning America” (3.6/13) power its way back into the top-rated position in the 7 a.m. breakfast competish, contrary to information from one morning-news anchor.

KTLA breakfastcast had a solid November, growing 13% year-to-year to finish second for the two-hour frame. KNBC’s “Today” sank to third place (down 8%), followed by KTTV’s “Good Day LA” (down 11%) and KCBS’ first November with “The Early Show” (down 44% from the local/national hybrid which aired in the slot a year ago).

KABC prexy and G.M. Arnold Kleiner gushed about his station’s perf during the book, arguing that while the primetime success of “Millionaire” may have given “an aura to the station, it was not a lead-in (for our newscasts) and didn’t do anything for us at the 4, 5 and 6 p.m.”

He credits KABC wins in the early evening races — the last time KABC swept the 4, 5 and 6 races was May 1996 — to what he says was superior news coverage.

“I just think we did a better job on our newscasts … we did a lot of survey work to find out what most viewers were interested in.”

KNBC’s Ray Heacox was quick to point out that while its early newscasts lost out to KABC’s, each KNBC hour built upon its last, starting with building on its “Rosie O’Donnell” lead-in. KABC’s 4, 5 and 6 p.m. all fell, including losing auds after its “Oprah Winfrey” lead-in.

“Oprah” did have a solid month in Los Angeles, jumping 13% ahead of year-ago figures to a 6.0/11 to score its largest-ever win over “Rosie” (3.2/10), which dipped 16%.

‘Room for improvement’

New KCBS topper John Severino put the best face possible on his first full sweeps month in the market since getting back into the local station biz.

“There is a lot of room for improvement,” he conceded. “This is a weak television station, but that’s why I wanted to take over because it has no where else to go but up.”

But he sees the arrival of “Judge Judy” at KCBS next year as an optimistic sign for the future. “The majority of WNBC’s success (this November) came from ‘Judge Judy,’ and that same program will be on KCBS starting in fall of next year.”

That could be bad news for the station’s fledgling 4 p.m. newscast “Women to Women,” which tanked during its first major sweep. Severino said that “if after six to nine months, (‘Women to Women’) is not performing well, we’ll look at other alternatives and that could be ‘Judge Judy.'”

But, he said “This is a show you must keep on the air for a while to nurture it.”

As for why KCBS’s 11 p.m. newscast continues to bleed auds despite help from an improved CBS primetime, Severino made no excuses. “We’ve got to do some fine-tuning on that,” he said.

Other notable results from the November book:

  • In the 10 p.m. primetime news race, KTLA (4.7/8) pulled away from the pack, easily beating KTTV (3.9/7), KCAL (2.5/4) and KCOP (2.0/3). While KCOP nearly doubled its year-ago finish (can you say “WWF Smackdown”?), the other three outlets all dipped, with KCAL taking the hardest hit.

  • In weeknight access (7-8 p.m.), KABC’s “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” combo crusised to victory with double-digit Nielsen spikes. KTLA’s “Friends”/”Seinfeld” duo was second, though “Seinfeld” dropped a disturbing 23%.

  • KNBC’s infohour of “Extra” and “Access Hollywood” ranked third in the hour, while KTTV’s new comedy pairing of “Drew Carey” and “The Simpsons” dropped the station to fourth, with “Drew” collapsing 46% below the station’s average last year with “Home Improvement” repeats.

  • Spanish-lingo KMEX had a good month with its various editions of “Noticias 34.” All three weekday editions posted double-digit gains.
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