Where have local viewers been getting their news during the Persian Gulf crisis?
The first answers to that question became available yesterday with advance ratings from Nielsen and Arbitron for Baltimore-area viewing last month.
In competition among the area stations, WMAR-TV (Channel 2) had something to smile about. It gained in all major newscasts compared with January 1990 to place first in 5 p.m. news and second at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., according to Arbitron.
WJZ-TV (Channel 13) remained in a dominant first at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. WBAL-TV ( Channel 11) was last.
The performance of the three affiliates may have been affected by the news ratings of their networks.
NBC, Channel 2's network, for example, did much better in ratings during the gulf crisis than did CBS, Channel 11's, network. ABC, Channel 13's network, was the most watched of all broadcast networks during gulf crisis coverage last month. But the combined audiences for the three network affiliates in Baltimore were down from a year ago during the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts, according to Arbitron.
At 11 p.m., the most lucrative news period, the audience was down 4 share points from a year ago.
Arnold Kleiner, president and general manager of Channel 2, said yesterday that he was not sure where those viewers might have gone.
But Kleiner and others speculated that viewers may have switched to Cable News Network, reflecting a trend seen elsewhere during the gulf crisis.
Nationally, CNN's ratings soared to record highs during coverage of the war, while the combined audiences for network newscasts at ABC, NBC and CBS dropped off.
The increased appetite for news in general, though, was visible in local viewing last month. In the Arbitron survey, Channel 2's news nosed out reruns of "The Cosby Show" on Channel 13. "Cosby," though, held on to its top spot, according to Nielsen.
Overall, the differences between Arbitron and Nielsen were not large enough to alter the relative standings of Channel 13 in a dominant first, Channel 2 in second and Channel 11 third when the newscasts went head to head.
A more definitive sense of viewing patterns will be available when the complete audience survey results are released later this week.