Channels 2, 13, citing sweeps, each claim No. 1

June 07, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Another local ratings period ends, and another local ratings controversy begins.

This time the argument is over which 6 o'clock news program is No. 1 in Baltimore.

WMAR (Channel 2) says it has the most-watched 6 o'clock newscast according to the Nielsen audience survey for May sweeps. WJZ (Channel 13) says its news is No. 1 and accuses Channel 2 of finessing the numbers.

Both stations are running promotions that claim victory.

If such conflicting claims seem familiar, it's because confusion also arose at the end of the February sweeps. Then, it was WBAL (Channel 11) and Channel 13 both claiming to have the most-watched 11 o'clock newscast in Baltimore.

The current argument is also the result of tight competition and disagreement over what constitutes the 6 o'clock newscast.

Channels 2 and 13 have local newscasts from 6 to 6:30 weeknights. But at 6:30, Channel 2 goes to the network's "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw," while Channel 13 stays local with Al Sanders and Denise Koch.

When they are head-to-head with local news during the first half hour, Channel 13 beats Channel 2 with a 13.76 rating, compared with a 13.1 rating (each rating point equals 9,300 TV households). Channel 13 says that's the measure of whose 6 o'clock news is No. 1.

But Channel 2 disagrees. It says that because Channel 13's 6 o'clock newscast runs an hour, its rating for the full hour is what counts. And for the hour, Channel 13's newscast earns a 13.08 rating. Therefore, according to Channel 2, its 13.1 beats Channel 13's 13.08 by two-hundredths of a ratings point.

"In my whole life at Channel 2, this is the biggest thing that has ever happened: Our 6 o'clock show beats their 6 o'clock show," Arnold J. Kleiner, Channel 2 general manager, said last week.

Channel 13's general manager, Marcellus Alexander, countered by saying, "When a station stretches the facts the way that apparently they have, it begs the question: If you can't trust their news promotion, can you trust their news?"

A spokesman for Nielsen said last week that it does not get involved in such disputes as long as both sides are citing accurate figures. He said the Nielsen figures cited by Channels 2 and 13 are accurate.

Outside of Channel 2's challenge to Channel 13's longtime dominance at 6 p.m., there was not a lot of change in local viewing habits during May.

One of the most interesting shifts is the increase in ratings for "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw." It is now the most-watched network news in Baltimore. Previously, "ABC World News Tonight With Peter Jennings" was the highest-rated network newscast locally.

This comes at a time when NBC News is thought by many media critics to have lost credibility as a result of the rigged test crash of a GM pickup truck on the newsmagazine "Dateline, NBC."

Baltimore viewers, meanwhile, continue to favor ABC News' "Nightline" over "Arsenio Hall" and "The Tonight Show." And David Letterman continues to get beat locally by everybody and everything on the other channels except infomercials on WBFF (Channel 45). And Letterman doesn't beat them by much.

Overall, each of the locals received good and bad news:

* Channel 13 saw more audience erosion, but it managed to beat back Channel 11 in the late-news race to reclaim undisputed leadership by 2 rating points. The 11 o'clock newscast is the most lucrative.

* Channel 11 slipped a bit with the 11 p.m. newscast but continued to show growth from a year ago in virtually all of its newscasts.

* Channel 2's 6 o'clock news racked up strong numbers, but among the three affiliates Channel 2's late news did the worst job of holding onto the lead-in provided by prime-time network programming.

* "News at Ten" on Channel 45 added another 10,000 or so TV households to its audience from a year ago, but it did not do a very good job of holding the audience from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. each night. "News at Ten" starts with an audience of about 60,000 homes at 10 p.m., but ends with only about 40,000 watching the last 15 minutes of the broadcast.

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