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Local TV news is all gloom and doom (at least in the ratings)

March 19, 2004

KSDK (Channel 5) boasted of winning every news time period. KMOV (Channel 4) noted that its ratings were "among its highest in a year." KTVI (Channel 2) blamed good weather and a lack of big news stories.

But no amount of spin from St. Louis TV stations could hide the fact that viewership was down almost across the board during the recently ended February sweeps period.

In contrast to last February, with KMOV and KSDK in a hot race at 10 p.m. and KTVI riding high at 9, results this February were unimpressive all around.

That goes for content as well as ratings. Stations seemed mired in same-old, same-old during the ratings period, offering an overload of old gimmicks ("free money!"), celebrity interviews and inspirational schmaltz rather than substance or issues. If viewers turned away in favor of a humorous update from "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" on Comedy Central, or opted to wait till 11 p.m. for "BBC World News" on KETC (Channel 9), they could hardly be blamed.

And turn away they did. For KTVI, the February numbers were even a little scary. Viewership of the 9 p.m. newscast dropped 23 percent, from last year's 10.2 rating and 14

At 10 p.m., KMOV fell 12 percent from last year's 18.1 rating and 28 percent audience share - numbers that briefly let the station boast "we're No. 1" at 10 p.m. This year's 15.9/24 was good only for second place.

KSDK was also down from last year, but the decline was less precipitous. This year's 17.5 rating and 25 percent audience share represented a 3 percent drop from last year's 18/28.

(A ratings point represents 12,022 St. Louis-area households. Share, considered the more significant number, refers to the percentage of TV sets in use that are tuned to a particular station.)

The declines at Channel 2 weren't limited to the late news. Although the station boasts that its 7-9 a.m. local news block "remains No. 2 in the market," viewership of the 7 a.m. hour dropped 11 percent in February, with the 8 a.m. hour down 27 percent in ratings (4.5, down from 6.2) and a full 6 share points (to 14 from 20).

A marginally bright spot for Channel 2 was early morning. Between 5 and 7 a.m., viewership edged up 2 share points while competitors drifted down slightly. Between 5 and 7 a.m., Channel 2 is a solid No. 2 in the time period, topping Channel 4.

Channel 5 has particular reason to be worried about mornings. "Today in St. Louis" saw ratings slide 16 percent from last February during the 6-7 a.m. hour, with a full 6 share points dropping off.

The Channel 5 lead is still significant, however; 26 percent of households watching TV from 6-7 a.m. choose Channel 5, with 19 percent opting for Channel 2 and 15 percent choosing Channel 4. That's a gain of 1 share point for Channel 4, which credits its restructured morning show featuring Richelle Carey, Marc Cox, Virginia Kerr and meteorologist Lyra O'Brien.

Midday news viewership was down at every station. From 11 a.m.-noon, Channel 2 saw its audience fall a whopping 30 percent, from last February's 5.4 rating and 16 share to this year's 3.8/12.

Channel 4, which had been winning the midday race, dropped into second with a 6 rating and 18 share, down from last February's 7.6/21. Channel 5 regained the lead with a 6.7/20 despite a decline of 24 percent in ratings from last February.

At 5 p.m., the only time period in which Channel 5 saw audiences rise, Oprah Winfrey has to take the credit. Thanks to special events, including her 50th birthday party, Winfrey's show was up 13 percent at 4 p.m. weekdays on Channel 5; the 5 p.m. news grew 5 percent, with a 1 percent gain in audience share.