WBAL wins prime spot in February's local ratings race

March 03, 2006|By NICK MADIGAN | NICK MADIGAN,SUN REPORTER

Although the just-completed Olympic Winter Games, broadcast from the Italian Alps by NBC, were a disappointment for the network in terms of viewers, its Baltimore affiliate managed nonetheless to claim the peak in February's local ratings race.

Nationwide, NBC drew an average 12.2 percent of prime-time viewers for the Olympics, 37 percent fewer than for the winter games in Salt Lake City four years ago.

But viewership of the Turin games in Baltimore and elsewhere in Maryland was higher, doubtless aided by the participation of a native daughter, Harford County figure skater Kimmie Meissner.

The prime-time figures were skewed by the phenomenal success of American Idol - shown here on the Fox affiliate, WBFF, Channel 45 - which trounced the Olympics on the nights they went head-to-head.

When averaged across the month, A.C. Nielsen viewership statistics released yesterday show that WBAL's relative strength in the market last month was not limited to the Olympics.

For the 12th consecutive ratings period, known as a "book," Channel 11 was ahead in the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. local newscasts.

At 6 p.m., for instance, WBAL's newscast had a 9.1 rating, equal to about 100,000 homes, while its closest competitor, WJZ, the CBS affiliate, had a 5.9 rating, for about 64,900 homes.

WBAL's local news operation also outperformed WJZ, by a hair, between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m, leading into NBC's Today show, which went live from Turin for the games' duration and had higher ratings than ABC's Good Morning America and CBS' Early Show combined.

"The bellwether of local ratings is local news," said Jordan Wertlieb, WBAL's president and general manager. "Prime time is a network story. We look at the things we can control."

WBAL also carries the area's top three talk shows - Oprah, Dr. Phil and Live With Regis and Kelly.

A news release yesterday from WJZ, Channel 13, acknowledged its chief rival's Olympian supremacy in prime time, saying the CBS affiliate had posted "strong results despite Olympic competition."

"Look for WJZ/CBS prime to return to number 1 post Olympics," the station said in its statement.

WJZ pointed out also that its local news program at noon dominates the market, helped by a lead-in from The Price is Right and attracting bigger audiences than WBAL and WMAR, the ABC affiliate on Channel 2, combined.

WJZ also dominates the afternoon soap-opera period - with The Young & the Restless, As the World Turns and Guiding Light - again beating the combined audiences of WBAL and WMAR.

Jay Newman, the CBS affiliate's general manager, said in an e-mail message that he was "quite pleased" with the February sweep results. "WJZ performed very well," he wrote, "up against strong Olympic coverage on the competition."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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