Half those watching February Olympics switched off Channel 11's late newscast

March 16, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

CBS coverage of the Olympics was a hit with Baltimore area viewers. But WBAL-TV (Channel 11), the local CBS affiliate, wasn't able to do much with the huge prime-time audience the network delivered.

That's the picture of TV viewing patterns in Baltimore during the important February "sweeps" ratings period, which emerges with the release of advance audience measurements from A. C. Nielsen yesterday.

On average, TV sets in about 184,000 area homes were tuned to Channel 11 during prime time (from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.) in February -- up 65 percent from the audience in February 1991. But less that half that number -- about 83,000 homes -- stayed with the station for its 11 o'clock newscast, which followed. That indicates a significant tune-out.

Management at Channel 11 yesterday verified those figures but said it interpreted them in a different way.

"We're happy with those 11 o'clock numbers," said Emerson Coleman, director of broadcast operations. Coleman said that Channel 11's audience of 83,000 for its late news is up about 18,000 from a year ago, and that puts the station in second place at 11 o'clock behind WJZ-TV (Channel 13). Last year at this time, Channel 11 was in last place during the late news, behind Channel 13 and second place WMAR-TV (Channel 2).

The new order finds: Channel 13 still in first with 129,000 homes, Channel 11 second with its 83,000 homes, and Channel 2 last with 74,000 homes. Coleman added that Channel 11 had the same size audience for its late news in January when there was no prime-time help from the Olympics.

Because the 11 o'clock newscast gets the highest advertising rates, it is generally considered to be the most important local broadcast.

"News at Ten," on WBFF-TV (Channel 45), again checked in with an audience of about 28,000 TV homes, the same as in previous ratings periods.

Channel 2 continued its dominance at 5 o'clock when its news goes against entertainment reruns on the other channels. Its audience is now 147,000, up 55,000 from a year ago when Channel 11 still had a competing early news program. Channel 11 canceled its locally produced 5 o'clock show last fall in favor of reruns.

At 6 p.m., though, there is a decisive shift back to Channel 13's local newscast with Al Sanders and Denise Koch.

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