For the first time in more than four years, WKYT-27 has snatched away the 11 p.m. household ratings crown from rival WLEX-18.
It was the one news time slot that had eluded WKYT in the past year or so as it has begun to grab some ratings wins over NBC affiliate WLEX.
The revelation comes as part of the recently released November ratings results by Nielsen, and was one of several interesting tales from the book, the first for WLEX's new morning and noon team of longtime anchor Dia Davidson and fresh face Chris Goodman. Nielsen said the station saw some dramatic drops during some of that pair's time slots.
ABC affiliate WTVQ-36 saw drops in several measurements across the day during the first ratings book since it replaced its evening anchor team and shuffled its morning lineup. It also dropped its 5 p.m. news in favor of Judge Judy, and viewership fell at that time slot, too.
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But back to the big story — the 11 p.m. news — as WLEX's reporters would say.
WKYT won by half a ratings point in households in a 40-county area measured by Nielsen. A ratings point is equal to 1 percent of TV households in the area.
The win was one of four in household ratings for WKYT out of the eight competitive time slots.
"It is a tough two-way race in this market," said WKYT news director Robert Thomas. "I don't think we're going to sit back at all and say 'Wow, we're No. 1 at 11 and it's going to be that way. It's fantastic that we won in November, but there's another ratings period coming up, and it's just as important to continually get better."
WLEX continued to win the majority of time slots under measurements such as key advertiser demographics and in the metro viewing area comprising Lexington and certain nearby counties.
"The difference in demographics is still pretty startling," said Tim Gilbert, general manager at WLEX.
Prime time lineup cited
He theorized that NBC's extremely weak prime-time lineup might have pulled some viewers away from WLEX at 11 p.m.
"We've been without a strong prime-time lineup for over three years, and eventually that will cost you," Gilbert said.
Asked why it hadn't hurt the station before now, he said "it's a testimony about the strength of our late news product."
WLEX has built up that strength over several years. WKYT had long been the dominant player in local news, but WLEX started leading in most household ratings several years ago and has dominated in certain advertiser-favored demographics. While WKYT maintained strength and leads during its noon news hours, it had fallen behind dramatically in the morning hours and to a lesser extent at 11 p.m.
Michael Brickey, general manager at Fox affiliate WDKY-56, also said NBC's weak prime-time lineup might have contributed to WLEX's loss to WKYT. But he also gave credit to Thomas, who he said has "painstakingly been looking at the newscast from every angle and it's starting to pay off."
"His predecessor (Jim Ogle), I think, had been stagnant in his view," said Brickey, whose station pays WKYT to produce and report its 10 p.m. news. "And Robert brought in some energy and looking at things in a new way."
Thomas said the 11 p.m. newscast probably proved so hard to win because there has been little change among the stations' lineups. Both have changed sports anchors, but otherwise they're the same.
And a change in personnel, he said, is typically a catalyst for a ratings change.
That's exactly what might have happened to WLEX in the morning and noon hours when its new team of Davidson and Goodman had its debut.
Household ratings dropped 11 percent and 26 percent at 6-7 a.m. and noon, respectively. The 5-6 a.m. time slot, however, gained 7 percent.
Gilbert downplayed the ratings, saying, "invariably, whenever any station makes a change, the ratings get worse before they get better because you've always disrupted a viewing pattern."
"You could bring Tom Brokaw into our 6 o'clock news and in our first book, we would see a drop because viewers would say 'I really like Kevin Christopher, and I'm not sure about this new guy.' "
"It takes a while for things to settle in," he added. "And that may be what we're seeing in the morning. And it may not be. It takes a while to figure it out."
WKYT's morning and noon newscasts, anchored by veterans Barbara Bailey and Bill Bryant, didn't win in household ratings in the mornings, but they picked off wins in the metro households, which had traditionally been a stronghold of WLEX.
WTVQ's changes reflected
Change was also evident at ABC affiliate WTVQ, a distant third for a long time in local news ratings.
While its household ratings in the 40-county area grew at 6 p.m., they fell dramatically at noon, 5:30 p.m. and 11 p.m.
The station's decision to replace its 5 p.m. news with the syndicated Judge Judy also meant a drop of a rating point in that time slot. Long-term, though, general manager Chris Aldridge has said it could provide a good lead-in, as it did years earlier, for the 5:30 p.m. news.
"We're in a building mode here and are not paying a lot of attention to the ratings," he said. "We're concerned about putting out a great newscast every night and, in the end, the ratings will take care of themselves. It's only the beginning of what's going to be a long journey."
In other news, Fox affiliate WDKY-56 saw its ratings grow slightly for its 7 a.m. newscast, while the 10 p.m. news fell some in household viewership. Brickey said November traditionally is an odd ratings period for the station because the news is pre-empted the month before for the World Series and that changes some viewing patterns.
It continued the mantra for the November book: change, change, change.
And it's one that has the industry looking with much interest toward May's ratings period.
"The picture should start to clear up along several fronts," said Gilbert of WLEX. "The changes that we've made and that WTVQ has made will have had time to settle in and develop a following. I would think the May book would be a very interesting book."