The recently released May local television news ratings proved to be a major boon to Lexington's NBC affiliate, which benefited from the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but also rebounded from a string of so-so sweeps months to show major growth throughout every newscast time period compared with a year ago.
Ratings for the Derby in the 40-county area measured by Nielsen were up slightly from 26 ratings points a year ago to 28, or 28 percent of total television households. Of those watching TV at the time, 60 percent were tuned in to see Mine That Bird's improbable victory.
The Derby performed even better in Nielsen's designated metro area of Fayette, Bourbon, Clark, Jessamine, Scott and Woodford counties. In those areas, 69 percent of television households were watching.
"We probably did better in previous years from a revenue standpoint because the economy was better, but I think there was still as much interest from the viewers in it," said WLEX (Channel 18) General Manager Pat Dalbey.
The Preakness, which saw filly Rachel Alexandra beat Mine That Bird, scored a 16 rating with 42 percent of homes watching.
That's up significantly from the 2008 race, which scored an 8 rating with 27 percent of homes watching.
That, however, appears to be an anomaly of sorts, since the 2007 running scored a 13 rating with 42 percent of homes watching, similar to the 2009 numbers.
The difference might be explained by the fact that Nielsen determines the Lexington market's ratings by diaries that people fill out.
"Each survey has a different sample of ... diaries, so anomalies do happen, especially with sports and special events that occur only once a year," said Chris Fedele, director of sales at WLEX.
WLEX and CBS affiliate WKYT (Channel 27) split the eight newscasts in household ratings, but WLEX continued to outpace WKYT in advertiser-favored demographics.
"We were glad to see that we were back to where we were before we started to notice some dipping and sliding," said WLEX News Director Bruce Carter. "I think we shored up some areas. Any time you have a little bit of slippage, you have to make some adjustments, and I think we made the right adjustments."
WKYT also showed growth across the majority of newscasts, and the two newscasts that it produces for Fox affiliate WDKY (Channel 56) saw phenomenal year-over-year growth of more than 45 percent each in household ratings.
WLEX had struggled slightly during recent ratings months and had seen WKYT win in time slots that traditionally had been WLEX strongholds, like the morning hours and 11 p.m. news.
"It was worrying me. We needed to breathe some life into our shows," Carter said, noting that the station hired a new morning producer and brought on co-anchor Chris Goodman to join longtime morning anchor Dia Davidson.
Carter said he chose to bring on Goodman because rival stations switched to dual anchors, and with a pairing, "you can just add more content and have a fresher, faster-paced newscast."
Ratings in previous sweeps months had slipped after Goodman's arrival, but Carter chalked that up to the typical drop in viewership that accompanies any major on-air change.
"It takes a while for people to get used to new people, and I think we just found the right combination," he said.
And while the growth helped expand its lead over WKYT at some time periods, it's "still a neck-and-neck race with us and KYT," Carter said.
WKYT's growth was generally lower than WLEX's and came at all time periods except 6-7 a.m. and 6 p.m.
WKYT News Director Robert Thomas noted that the station is the most watched in the early evening block, winning the 5 and 5:30 p.m. time periods and "it was very close at 6."
"While we certainly want to be ahead in all time periods as we were at noon and at the early evening, we are pleased with the growth and momentum that we have been showing," he said.
Distant third-place ABC affiliate WTVQ (Channel 36) struggled throughout the day, dropping in the ratings at all time periods, except 5-6 a.m., where it held steady.
It has juggled its anchor lineup over the past year.
"We're in a rebuilding process, and we know that it's going to take time and we've counseled our staff for that," said General Manager Chris Aldridge.
Aldridge also said that WLEX and WDKY might have been helped because they were the only stations to continue broadcasting in analog in May.
WLEX's Carter disputed that, saying he doubts it had "any impact."
Meanwhile, WDKY had a very strong month for its 7-8 a.m. and 10-11 p.m. newscasts.
"We were thrilled with our performance ... and felt like our loyal viewers stuck with us, and it sounds like we've captured a few more," said General Manager Michael Brickey.