Lexington's NBC affiliate WLEX (Channel 18) scored the highest household ratings in all competitive newscast time periods in May.
It's the first time in the memory of anyone at the station that it topped the household ratings of the noon and 12:30 p.m. newscasts of rival CBS affiliate WKYT (Channel 27).
"We were extremely happy with the May results," said WLEX news director Bruce Carter.
The victory was not without controversy, though, as WKYT pointed to issues nationally with ratings researcher Nielsen during the month.
"When you look at the results, there are dramatic ups and downs that just don't make any sense," said WKYT news director Robert Thomas.
Carter traced WLEX's success during the past several years to a process that began about 2000, when the station began reinventing its newscasts.
During the past several years, WLEX generally has led WKYT in household ratings during the majority of newscast time slots and outpaced the station further in advertiser-favored age groups like 18 to 49 and 25 to 54.
One constant, though, was WKYT's dominance in household ratings at noon and 12:30 p.m.
"We've put more emphasis on our 12 and 12:30 newscasts and pushed new resources and content, and I think it paid off," Carter said.
Leaders at WKYT, though, suggest the losses at noon and 12:30 p.m. might have had more to do with Nielsen's research.
The company uses diaries, in which viewers write what they watch. Diaries are an often-criticized form of measurement, and some question how accurately people fill them out.
The May results saw little fluctuation in the majority of competitive newscast time slots. In fact, only three of the eight competitive time periods saw year-over-year changes higher than one ratings point, which is the equivalent of 1 percent of total TV households in the 40-county area of Central and south-central Kentucky that Nielsen measures.
One of those three time slots was 11 p.m., which saw WLEX's household rating decline by 1.6 points. It still led WKYT by 1 rating point at the time slot.
The other two time slots were noon and 12:30 p.m., during which all three Lexington stations saw their ratings increase or decrease by more than a point. The smallest amount of year-over-year change came at distant third-place ABC affiliate WTVQ (Channel 36), which saw its ratings decline by 1.1 points at noon. The highest came at WLEX, which gained 2.1 ratings points during both time slots.
WKYT's Thomas also noted that Nielsen received only 931 completed diaries in May, down more than 16 percent from 1,113 in May 2011. There also were fewer diaries received from populous counties such as Pulaski and Whitley in southern Kentucky, "a traditional stronghold for us," Thomas said.
He pointed, too, at problems Nielsen had nationwide with the diary printing process, as well as call center operations. Industry publication MediaDailyNews reports the issues frustrated station executives, who have complained to the Media Rating Council, which accredits Nielsen. The organization revoked its accreditation of the diary-only ratings system in 2010, prompting Nielsen to develop a plan that was recently detailed and would include a combination of larger sample sizes and devices such as set-top boxes.
Some stations nationwide have begun dropping Nielsen-produced ratings in favor of competitors such as Rentrak. All Lexington stations still use Nielsen.
While Nielsen wouldn't address Lexington's ratings specifically, it issued a statement to the Herald- Leader saying, "Nielsen ensures that any data provided to clients meet or exceed the requirements set by the industry for representative results."
WLEX's Carter disputed the idea that Nielsen's issues somehow produced a fluke victory at noon and 12:30 p.m.
"This looked like a very normal May book for us," he said.
Thomas also said the Nielsen measurement of WKYT's viewership doesn't give credit to the station for news it produces that airs on other stations. For example, the station produces both newscasts on Fox affiliate WDKY (Channel 56). WKYT also runs its daily noon, 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. newscasts on Hazard's WYMT, which is owned by WKYT's parent company.
"We don't get credit for those viewers who are watching us on those stations," he said.
Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz