WBAL tops at 5 p.m., 6 p.m.

December 03, 2004|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

WJZ is still the highest-rated station in Baltimore around the clock, but WBAL is No. 1 in nighttime news across the board - with historic margins of victory at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. That's the story of the November sweeps in Baltimore, which ended at midnight Wednesday.

While WBAL, Baltimore's NBC affiliate, has beaten CBS-owned WJZ newscasts at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. before, the distance between the two has never been as great during the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts since Nielsen Media Research started using meters to measure viewership in 1992.

"Although 11 News has met with great success all year long, the most recent ratings period shows levels of momentum for us and distance from our competitors that exceeded everyone's expectations," said Bill Fine, president and general manager at WBAL. "Although by any objective measure, WBAL would have to be considered the news leader, we fully expect the fierce competition with WJZ will continue."

Part of WBAL's success at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. must be attributed to the phenomenal power of Oprah Winfrey, whose show is carried from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. on WBAL, driving a huge audience to the doorstep of its newscast. "The Oprah Factor," as it is known in the television industry, is a mighty force, with Winfrey's audience in Baltimore growing by 10 percent over last year.

At 11 p.m., WBAL and WJZ were locked in another of their perennial dogfights, with WBAL beating WJZ by only seven-tenths of a ratings point Monday through Friday at 11 p.m., and just two-tenths of a ratings point for its Monday through Sunday 11 p.m. newscasts. (Each ratings points equals 10,877 television households.)

"When you look at WJZ's entire portfolio of assets ... we have got to be very pleased with this sweep in that we came off on top from sign on to sign off," said Jay Newman, vice president and general manager.

Pointing out that WJZ has the top-rated morning and noon newscasts, he added: "The world has changed, and not every station can win in every time period anymore."

Baltimore remains a market dominated by two stations. WMAR, the ABC affiliate, finished no better than third in any major newscast, while WBFF (Fox) and WNUV (WB) brought up the rear.

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