KTHV Claims No. 1 at 10 p.m. as KATV Vows to Fight Back

Last week, KATV-TV, Channel 7, saw and felt the difference.

Advance ratings from Nielsen Media Research’s February survey gave KTHV-TV, Channel 11, a victory in the 10 o’clock news wars, waged among Little Rock’s KTHV, KATV and KARK-TV, Channel 4.

It marked the first time in eight years that perennial powerhouse KATV was not No. 1 in household rating and share numbers.

And KTHV, whose “see and feel the difference” tagline has been the cornerstone of the station’s late ’90s renaissance, performed well in other time slots as well. The Gannett Co.-owned CBS affiliate was the only station to show household rating/share and demographic growth in four programs: its 6 a.m. morning show and its 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts.

Meanwhile, KARK, which held No. 2 through much of the ’90s, sunk deeper into third place. The first victim of KTHV’s re-emergence, KARK saw its 10 p.m. broadcast fall 2 household rating and 4 share points from February 2000.

Not even stout NBC dramas like “E.R.” could resuscitate KARK. On one night during the February ratings “sweeps,” “E.R.” posted a robust 17 and 26 just before KARK’s 10 p.m. newscast, for which the audience shrank to a 10 and 18.

The ratings number is the percentage of the market watching the station. The share is the percentage of all sets turned on that are watching the station. (See the accompanying chart for more ratings in other time slots.)

Most industry-watchers agree that the February ratings book is key because it shows KATV’s dominance might have come to an end.

“I don’t think they’ve sensed a serious challenge in the last few years up until now,” said Doug Krile, who was an anchor for KARK in the early ’90s and is now corporate director of news and public affairs for Equity Broadcasting Corp. of Little Rock. “And I think they have to be feeling it as a serious challenge now.”

KATV general manager Dale Nicholson offers testimony that Krile’s suspicion was right. He said he remembers staffers chuckling at “that silly thing” KTHV was doing to promote its newscasts in a given week. That attitude, Nicholson said, is no longer welcome at KATV.

“In the meantime, I think the best thing to do is to just admit that, you know, nothing is forever unless you work really, really hard and never get lackadaisical or anything else,” Nicholson said. “And we have allowed them to catch up with us at 10 o’clock, and I’m not happy about it.”

By the Numbers

Elsewhere in the February survey, KATV continued to show a decisive lead over its new rival, KTHV.

KATV remained No. 1 at 5 and 6 p.m. At 6 p.m. it garnered a 17 and 28 to KTHV’s 11 and 18 and KARK’s 8 and 13. At 5 p.m., KATV drew a commanding 15 and 29 to the 8 and 16 its competitors each logged.

But KTHV showed strength in those slots. At 6 p.m., KTHV grew in each key demographics, while KATV and KARK generally lost viewers or remained flat.

At 5 p.m., KTHV overcame the weakest lead-in of the bunch — its 4 p.m. “Rosie O’Donnell Show” — to tie KARK at 8 and 16. KARK’s lead-in, back-to-back episodes of “Judge Judy,” drew the biggest numbers among the affiliates with newscasts, posting an 8 and 23, again keeping the 5 p.m. newscast from sinking to third place.

Overall, the survey shows KTHV experiencing significant growth at 10 p.m. over February 2000 numbers, when it drew a 10 and 19 to KATV’s 15 and 29. KARK was still a No. 2 station then, posting a 10 and 20.

KTHV also gained viewers in every key demographic at 10 p.m., often by as much as 3 points. In contrast, KATV and KARK lost viewers in each demographic.

Despite the close shave between KTHV and KATV in household rating and share numbers at 10 p.m. Nicholson gives credit where credit is due.

“The matter of fact is … if you look at demographic ratings — which is what sales are based on — and you look at share, they’re the No. 1 station at 10 o’clock,” he said.

How They Did It

Susan Newkirk doesn’t want to give away her secrets.

The general manager of KTHV smiles at the question of how in six years Gannett Co. managed to make the rarely-watched, lowly-rated, third-place newscast the comeback kid of the TV news game.

Newkirk says “Today’s THV” listened to viewers to find what they want in a newscast and deliver it. It worked hard to present unbiased, fair news coverage. It took risks and thought big. It had a passion to win.

She acknowledges that the strong, souped-up, “Survivor”-fortified CBS lineup helped, too. Though the network’s ratings phenom is not a newscast lead-in, it does present a good platform from which to promote KTHV newscasts and personalities, she said.

And it’s KTHV’s promotion that many credit. Newkirk, a former promotions director herself, said promotion is always key to a successful newscast. Careful to say he’s not making excuses for his affiliate’s performance, Nicholson said KTHV’s promotions machine does good work.

“I’ve got to tell you, more than anything, I believe the marketing of KTHV has clearly been superior to everyone else in this marketplace,” he said. “… We have got to come out and do a much better job of marketing, a much better job. And it’s got to start, and it’s got to start real soon.”

Krile said KTHV has the content to back up its promotions.

“They’re marketing themselves well, they’re promoting themselves well, the newscast looked good, the content’s good on them,” Krile said. “You can say what you will about pulling Craig [O’Neill] in to do sports and throwing weather out into a Weather Garden, but the audience seems to like it.”

Other reasons KTHV has surged:

• Audience-building. On KARK’s “Must-See TV” night during sweeps, KTHV’s “48 Hours” logged a 9 and 13 against “E.R.” At 10 p.m., however, after “48 Hours” signs off and KTHV news signs on, the affiliate grew the audience to an impressive 16 and 27.

• Timing. KTHV introduced warm, friendly “Today’s THV” in 1995, during the days of KARK’s sensational, tabloid-TV news strategy. Krile said viewers who were turned off by KARK’s exploits could switch to KTHV for the alternative. That’s when then-No. 2 KARK’s audience began to erode.

• Planning. Newkirk said KTHV formed plans early in its Gannett days to first conquer KARK, then set its sights on KATV. The station formulates a new, 18-month plan every 12 months and remains goal-oriented, she said. It has allowed them improve each part of its newscast and challenge its competitors.

“What they did, I think quite wisely, is the first thing they did was went after [KARK], because that was their first goal,” Krile said. “And at that point, [KARK] was still weakening and … it didn’t take that many books to pass them. And then they set their eyes on [KATV].”

All of that helped make KTHV Gannett’s fastest-growing station since 1996, according to its own in-house research.

Striking Back

Nicholson said he won’t accept anything less than being No. 1 again.

Both Nicholson and news director Bob Steel said KATV has done a poor job of marketing its newscasts and personalities. A new director of promotions, Jim Hays, is working now to remedy that, Nicholson said. Hays’ efforts should begin showing up this week.

KATV will also tweak its newscasts. Nicholson said KATV must work harder to provide relevant news.

“I think we have gotten trapped, as every other television station in America has, in providing regular features that may not be as germane as they used to be. And, by golly, people will not tolerate you wasting their time,” he said.

Steel agrees. He said that while viewers won’t see shorter stories, the content will be heavier, “more newsy” and with a “harder edge.”

“So, bottom line is, if you make a better effort to just cover the news of the day, you have — I think — a better chance of winning viewers,” Steel said. “So less discretionary content is kind of where we’re headed and more viewer benefit content; things that are happening in Arkansas; local, local, local.”

At KARK, general sales manager Bob Denman believes his station has seen the bottom, and is now ready to rise. KARK is purchasing a new satellite truck and is adding a fourth meteorologist to its weather team. A new weatherman, Mark Dixon, will start Saturday. And a new promotional effort, focusing its news personalities, is underway.

News Numbers

February 2001, Monday-Friday household rating/share

February 2001 — February 2000 — Change

6-7 a.m.
KARK — 4/17 — 5/19 — -1/-2
KATV — 8/32 — 9/32 — -1/0
KTHV — 6/26 — 4/17 — 2/9

5 p.m.
KARK — 8/16 — 10/21 — -2/-5
KATV — 15/29 — 14/31 — 1/-2
KTHV — 8/16 — 5/11 — 3/5

6 p.m.
KARK — 8/13 — 9/16 — -1/-3
KATV — 17/28 — 18/30 — -1/-2
KTHV — 11/18 — 7/12 — 4/6

10 p.m.
KARK — 8/16 — 10/20 — -2/-4
KATV — 14/26 — 15/29 — -1/-3
KTHV — 14/27 — 10/19 — 4/8

Source: Nielsen Media Research, the stations.

Note: The ratings number is the percentage of the market watching the station. The share is the percentage of all sets turned on that are watching the station.

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