WMAR's 5 p.m. news takes a ratings ride all the way to the top

December 02, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

The first ratings from Baltimore's new overnight meters are in, and they show major changes in what's hot and what's not with area viewers.

The biggest story locally is that Baltimore's days as a one-horse news town are over: WJZ's (Channel 13) news is not nearly as dominant as it used to be. And in terms of national shows, David Letterman is a loser and Ted Koppel -- not Jay Leno or Arsenio Hall -- is the big winner on late-night TV, according to A.C. Nielsen ratings.

As far as the home-grown shows, for the first time in recent memory, WMAR (Channel 2) -- not Channel 13 -- has the most-watched newscast.

Channel 2's early news at 5 p.m. is not only the most-watched newscast, but it's also the most-watched of any local or syndicated show on Baltimore TV, including such blockbusters as "Oprah" and "Jeopardy." Its audience is now 186,000 homes, up a whopping 65,000 homes from last year at this time.

"You could say we're dancing on the rooftops," said Channel 2 general manager Arnold J. Kleiner, reacting to the 5 p.m. ratings.

Marcellus Alexander, general manager at Channel 13, acknowledged the size of his competitor's audience for its 5 o'clock news, but said, "Right now it has no news competition." He predicted that next year at this time -- when Channel 13 launches its 5 o'clock news with Sally Thorner, who signed off at Channel 2 for the last time Friday -- it will be a different story.

Channel 13 is still the top-rated station for news overall. When the stations compete head-on -- early morning, noon, 6 and 11 p.m. -- Channel 13's newscast wins every time period except at noon. But the margin of its lead has shrunk since Nielsen and the Arbitron rating service went from relying exclusively on viewers' diaries to electronic measurements recorded by meters attached to TV sets. The switch in ratings technology was made Oct. 28 at the start of the November "sweeps" period, which ended at midnight on Thanksgiving.

The most important difference in the Channel 13 margin of victory is at 11 p.m., the newscast that allows broadcasters to charge the highest advertising rates because the potential audience is the largest.

In November 1991 -- during the most recent comparable sweeps period before meters -- Channel 13's audience for its late news was as large as the audience for Channel 2 and WBAL (Channel 11) combined. With a 14 rating, Channel 13 had an audience of about 130,000 TV homes, while Channels 2 and 11 each had a 7 rating with 65,000 homes. Channel 13's share of the audience came to 36 percent of all TV sets in use.

Last month, Channel 13's rating of 13.6 still translated to about 130,000 homes. But Channel 11 now has an 11 rating -- up 4 points from a year ago -- for 102,000 homes. Channel 2 is also up, to a 10.6, which also translates to about 102,000 homes. Channel 13's share is now only 26 percent, while Channel 11 and 2 have 21 and 20 percent market shares, respectively.

Furthermore, independent stations WNUV (Channel 54) and WBFF (Channel 45) have more than doubled their 11 p.m. audiences under the new measurement system, according to Nielsen.

The overall picture that emerges is not of Channel 13 doing worse under the meters, but rather that almost everyone else is looking bette.Channel 54, for example, tripled its audience for the "8 O'Clock Movie," while Channel 45 appears to have added 18,000 new homes to the audience for its "News at Ten."

As for local taste for national shows:

David Letterman bombed on Channel 2. He was beaten by three of his four major competitors in Baltimore -- "Jerry Springer" on Channel 11, reruns of "Entertainment Tonight" and the 11 o'clock news on Channel 13, and Byron Allen and "Nightwatch" on Channel 54. The only show he beat was an "infomer cial" on Channel 45. Letterman does almost twice as well in most other major cities as he does in Baltimore.

Jay Leno scored big on Channel 2 with local viewers. Leno has doubled the audience Johnny Carson had for his "Tonight Show" last year.

Despite that, Channel 11's Arsenio Hall is still the king locally of late-night entertainment programming, beating Leno by an eyelash. Baltimore is one of Hall's better markets.

But the most popular late-night show of all in Baltimore is ABC News' "Nightline" on Channel 13, which tops both Arsenio Hall and Jay Leno by about 18,000 homes. Baltimore is one of Koppel's very best cities.

Baltimore's favorite soap opera is Channel 11's "The Young & Restless," which swamps the competition here and elsewhere.

Baltimore's favorite national newscast is ABC's "World News Tonight With Peter Jennings" on Channel 13, which does the near impossible for a newscast -- virtually tying in ratings with Vanna White and "Wheel of Fortune" on Channel 2. Jennings' newscast is also the favorite with audiences nationally.

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