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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

February, a traditional sweeps month for area TV stations, contained more than 10 days of Winter Olympics coverage. The event had a heavy impact on the ratings.

Olympics coverage creates sweep month ratings roller coaster


On Wednesday, the February sweeps period for area TV stations concluded. With the help of the Winter Olympics coverage on NBC, WTMJ-TV Ch. 4 captured more viewers than any of its competitors.

While the latest round of Olympics coverage brought in fewer viewers than other games of years past, the ratings numbers were still high as, traditionally, Milwaukee is one of the strongest TV markets for Olympics viewership in the nation. Because of the flux in ratings the games can have in its little more than 10-days-worth of air time, most stations held back on counter programming.

Looking at the numbers recorded Feb. 6 to Feb. 24, that roller coaster was enough to see why Fox, CBS and ABC stayed away from new shows in primetime. NBC, however, did launch its new hosts in the evening shows with Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show" and Seth Meyers on "Late Night."

Local newscasts did what they could do to keep viewership maintained during different spots around the clock. For WTMJ, its nightly newscast was usually bumped to around 10:30 p.m. for a start, while households with its other TV news favorites tuned away from the games for preferred newscasts.

"When the Olympics kicked in though, watching American athletes compete is a strong draw. We are patriotic, after all," said Jan Wade, the president and GM of WISN-TV Ch. 12. "We certainly understand and appreciate that."

For the rest of the month, the numbers tell a different story. Inside the sweep, with the days of Olympics coverage taken out, WITI-TV Fox 6 was the most watched station from sign-on to sign-off.

In the all-day numbers, WITI had a 4.2 rating, WISN-TV Ch. 12 was next with a 3.5 and WTMJ was tied with WDJT-TV CBS 58 with a 2.8 rating.

In primetime, again on the days outside of the Olympics, it was WITI that had the best ratings from Nielsen with a 12.0. WDJT was next at a 6.3, WISN had a 5.1 and WTMJ had a 3.6.

The nightly newscasts outside of the Olympics was closer to what we see during months outside of the sweep. For the 10 p.m. evening news, WISN was on top with a 6.8 rating, while WTMJ followed with a 6.3, WITI had a 6.0 and WDJT finished with a 5.9.

"Before the Olympics began, our newscasts were leading in virtually all day parts," Wade said, explaining how the ABC affiliate performed through January and the first week in February.

For the days during and after the games the station didn't let up, according to Wade.

"… But, that said, … 12 News was still out there covering and reporting on the stories and the issues that impact southeastern Wisconsin," she said. "That is what we do, no matter what. That will never change."

In the early evening local newscasts, WISN held the top spot with a 5.9 at 5 p.m. and a 6.9 at 6 p.m. At 5 p.m., WTMJ had a 5.8, WITI 5.0 and WDJT a 3.1.

At 6 p.m., WDJT airs "Jeopardy," which led the timeslot with an 8.1. WISN had a 6.9, WTMJ a 5.3 and WITI a 5.0 for its newscasts.

In the mornings, WITI had the highest ratings and maintained its dominance in the market. Starting at 4:30 a.m., WITI was in the top spot with a 2.6 household rating. WISN followed with a 2.1, WTMJ 0.9 and WDJT 0.7.

At 5 a.m., WITI scored a 4.2 audience, with WISN in second place with a 2.9, WTMJ 2.2 and WDJT 1.0.

At 6 a.m., WITI maintained the lead with a 5.7, WISN followed with a 4.9, WTMJ 3.2 and WDJT a 1.5.

The next major sweep period will be in May, when most of the top primetime shows will have a series finale before summer programming takes over. But it will be interesting tracking the Nielsen ratings, where each point represents 9,166 households in 13 counties.

Will WTMJ be able to take advantage of the Olympics to grow its audience? Did the other stations lose some of its regular viewers?

Those will be the questions worth answering by the time the numbers are evaluated again. The reason why the station staff and industry watchers pay so much attention to the ratings is two-fold. For industry watchers like myself, it is a way to see the fragmentation of the audience to other sources of digital information and entertainment. For the stations, the numbers help the sales team set the rates for on-air advertisements that will directly affect the bottom line.

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