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The Feb. sweeps: KMBC wins again

March 8, 2004

KCTV, Channel 5, had a huge early lead in the local February news sweeps thanks to its riveting investigation of online sex predators. In the end, however, KMBC, Channel 9, remained on top.

KMBC, Channel 9, once again won every newscast in every time period during the Nielsen ratings sweep that ended Wednesday. KSHB, Channel 41, continued to score impressive gains at 5, 6 and 10 p.m.

It wasn’t any one thing that put KMBC back in first place in late news. As Channel 9 officials pointed out this week, the ABC affiliate just brought home the bacon night after night, regardless of how well (or poorly, in ABC’s case) the network was doing.

Channel 9’s average ratings ranged from 11.7 on Thursdays to 13.9 on Wednesdays, while Channel 5’s 10 o’clock news fluctuated from a 14.8 rating on Mondays — when it got a reliable lift from “CSI: Miami” — to 8.2 on Fridays.

Inconsistency cost KCTV its first chance in years to win the 10 p.m. news ratings race. Moreover, KCTV’s weekly averages were all over the map: up when Steve Chamraz’s reports on Internet perverts were airing, down when they weren’t. All three of its competitors, especially WDAF, Channel 4, had much steadier audiences week to week.

So what does this prove? That a heavily hyped news series can artificially pump up viewership during a ratings period? Yes. But KCTV’s rivals ignore another lesson at their peril: People do watch investigative reports.

Station managers know all too well that many viewers will watch whatever news is on. But they sought out Channel 5 when its investigation aired. For four nights, KCTV scored a rare feat: Its audience actually grew after the network signed off at 10 p.m. (KMBC improves on its network lead-in nearly every night.)

Chamraz spends four days in a house and KCTV gets four nights of great ratings. Not bad.

Now imagine what would happen if Kansas City had investigative teams doing real, substantial investigations all the time. KCTV wants to be the area’s leading I-team, but, frankly, there’s not much competition. KMBC staked out its reputation in beat reporting; WDAF and KSHB do consumer news.

Other cities the size of ours have TV stations that devote weeks and months to large investigations. The National Headliner Awards this week honored stations in Nashville and Indianapolis for such work.

KCTV may not dependably deliver the ratings that advertisers want. but it’s shown that it can turn heads. In a 300-channel world, that counts for something.