powered by FreeFind

Apple iTunes


WFAA8 loads up on CBS11 with sharp-worded rhetoric, but doesn't entirely hit its bullseyes

This is somewhat reminiscent of the good old days in D-FW's local TV news wars, when station managers John McKay of KDFW-TV (Channel 4) and the late Dave Lane of WFAA-TV (Channel 8) knew how to spew some good quotes.

Your friendly content provider of course was a happy recipient. It took two to tangle, and these guys didn't mind making a little news.

WFAA8 president and general manager Mike Devlin, still hot about CBS11 touting its first time ever win at 10 p.m. in the just-ended November sweeps, fired off a few more cannon shots late Monday afternoon. Atta boy.

His counterpart at CBS11, Steve Mauldin, demurred this time around after earlier saying that excuses were for losers.

Basically put -- and exhaustively reported in this post -- Devlin says that the two stations in reality tied for first place in total viewers and households because their final ratings were too close to out-pace the margin for error. He also notes, repeatedly, that WFAA8 won by a narrow but bigger margin among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

Devlin and this reporter had what could be called an animated phone conversation Monday about what he termed a phony victory by a "wind-aided station" that reaps the benefits of bigger lead-ins from CBS' 9 p.m. crime series hits. Later that day, the station emailed a few more pithy quotes from Devlin. Let's look at what he says -- and whether he's on target. Here's one salvo:

"Using figures based on total viewers ages 2-plus to suggest a win in this day and age isn't very accurate. A five-year-old viewer, for example, really has no relevance for advertisers who are focused on reaching adults between the ages of 25 and 54. When children start buying homes, purchasing cars and furniture, then advertisers may consider them as viable viewers that should be counted. So others may count children as part of a 'victory;' however, the fact is all local stations make a living on adults between 25 and 54."

Devlin prefers the old-school "Household" rating to the total viewers figure. But he's virtually alone in that. Across this not-so-great TV land of ours, networks large and small all emphasize total viewer numbers over households. I don't know of a single exception. The argument is that people watch television, not buildings.

Using the household figure is the equivalent of actually getting up and turning a TV dial. It's that antiquated. But WFAA8 fared slightly better in the household rating, so that's why Devlin is using it as a counterpoint. It reinforces his contention that WFAA8 and CBS11 tied for first at 10 p.m.

The networks do of course, prize demographic groups over total viewers. For entertainment programming, the prize demo is 18-to-49-year-olds, followed in close order by 25-to-54-year-olds and 18-to-34-year-olds. For news programming, 25-to-54 is the principal target audience, and that's been stated time and again in these spaces.

WFAA8 certainly can claim a more clear-cut -- but still very slim win -- among 25-to-54-year-olds. But it's a little tougher to craft an on-air promo around that kind of a win. Imagine a script going something like this: "WFAA8 again is No. 1 for news among the only viewers who really matter to us. So thank you, 25-to-54-year-olds, for again allowing us to sell commercials at a higher rate. We'd like younger and older viewers to watch us, too. But if you don't want to, no problem. We're the 25-to-54-year-old station, and we want to stay that way."

You won't see that promo because it would be suicidal to a station's public image. Obviously it's much easier to tout yourself as No. 1 in total viewers -- which CBS11 can do based on Nielsen Media Research's final numbers.

Also, WFAA8 just happens to be D-FW's overall biggest loser in the year-to-year 25-to-54 ratings. Rival stations also are losing viewers, but for the most part at a less-acclerated rate, based on data from Nielsen. The year-to-year losses are occurring even though ratings inflation has bumped up the value of a rating point from 66,430 viewers to the current 67,863.

At 10 p.m., for instance, WFAA8 lost 38,531 viewers in the 25-to-54 demographic, a dip topped only by fourth place Fox4's free-fall of 40,365 viewers in the year-to-year November sweeps. CBS11 in comparison lost 9,138 viewers in the 25-to-54 age range.

At 6 a.m., WFAA8 lost 11,356 viewers in the 25-to-54 age range. a figure exceeded only by Fox4's shortfall of 15,632.

But WFAA8's 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts easily "outpointed" rival stations when it came to audience losses. The station dropped 32,591 viewers at 6 p.m., with Fox4 down just 5,504. And at 5 p.m., WFAA8 lost 24,026 viewers in the 25-to-54 age range, easily exceeding the second biggest drop-off by NBC5 (6,308 viewers).

WFAA8 still won at 10 p.m. and 6 p.m. in the 25-to-54 demographic while relinquishing the crown to Fox4 at 5 p.m. and again running third at 6 a.m. But the station's year-to-year losses will have to be shored up. Because at this rate, WFAA8 won't win anything in November 2010.

Devlin also had this to say in the statements distributed Monday: "In November Channel 11 experienced an enormous advantage based on its CBS-fueled prime-time lead-in. At one time or another, all stations have been beneficiaries of that kind of help for local newscasts. This raises a fundamental question: Around the country, CBS affiliates scored significant and substantial wins in their late news during November thanks to the CBS lead-in. Can Channel 11 claim the same?"

It's true that CBS11 won in total viewers by a sliver. It's also true that it had a substantial lead-in advantage on many nights, although WFAA8 also benefited from two big-ticket ABC attractions -- the Country Music Association awards and the Dancing with the Stars finale.

It's not true, though, that big-market CBS stations automatically vanquished their rivals in the late night news wars.

For instance, an Internet search of major market results showed ABC stations winning the November sweeps in Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Milwaukee. Although severely hampered by inferior lead-ins from The Jay Leno Show, NBC stations ran first in both Detroit and Washington,D.C.

CBS stations triumphed in Boston, Phoenix and Baltimore.

That obviously doesn't cover the entire landscape. And results in some big playgrounds remain hard to verify. But it does touch on a number of major markets in which CBS didn't win. That includes the two ranked just ahead of No. 5 Dallas-Fort Worth -- namely Chicago and Philly.

Devlin, a former WFAA8 reporter, is a fierce competitor who doesn't like to lose. Ditto the station's owner, Dallas-based Belo Corp.

In defending his station, though, Devlin also has opened the door to counter-points. CBS11 may be a succubus in his view. But the station has steadily gained on WFAA8 in recent years, and it's not all entirely due to lead-ins.

Both stations can rightly say that they presently offer a superior overall news product compared to Fox4 and NBC5. So it's going to be interesting to see how these two news/ratings titans battle it out on playing fields that are diminished, but still relevant.

And yes, for the record, I'm irrelevant in the grand 25-to-54 scheme of things. Nearing the age of 62 will do that to you. But I still feel frisky, dammit. So bring it on, wolf pups.