By Steve Kabelowsky Contributing Columnist Published Feb 27, 2015 at 4:06 PM Photography:

Another February in the local television world has come and gone. Wandering past the headlines and spin that local stations provide to call themselves the "best," is where the numbers are.

The numbers can tell a different story based on what newscasts are looked at. Many people are familiar with the 10 p.m. newscast numbers, as most who cover media considers the late news leader to be the winner in the market. But Milwaukee is different. The most watched, and most recorded and watched newscasts are the ones at 5 and 6 p.m.

For proving who wins, I like the sign-on to sign-off numbers because it averages everything out. Remember, TV is a commercial business meant to make money. If an advertiser runs an ad on the station with the highest average number, the better the chance to have a prospective customer see it. This number accounts for everything, including the news, primetime shows, syndicated programs and even the informercials that run overnight.

For the latest sweep that ended on Wednesday, WISN-TV Ch. 12 emerged as the winner as the most watched station in the market. This time, the ABC affiliate leaned on the strength of its early evening newscasts at 5 and 6 p.m.

"We are very pleased with the growth and strength of our newscasts," said Jan Wade, the president and general manager of WISN.

"I believe that growth is tied to our people and to our mission of providing important local coverage to our viewers.  We owe viewers a complete understanding of the important stories of the day. That is WISN 12 News, and that’s what we do twenty-four, seven," she said in a release.

The sign-on to sign-off (or 2 a.m. to 2 a.m. for you clock watchers) at WISN was a 3.5 household rating. In perspective, at any one single moment, between 28,000 and 33,000 people are watching Ch. 12. WITI-TV Fox 6 came in second at 3.0, WTMJ-TV Ch. 4 was next at 2.8 and WDJT-TV CBS 58 had a 2.5.

For newscasts, the one most people watched was the 6 p.m. weekday broadcast. Granted, more people watched "Jeopardy" on WDJT (7.7 rating), but for the newscasts, WISN was first with a 7.5, WTMJ was second at 5.5 and WITI had a 5.3.

For 5 p.m., WISN had a 7.1, WTMJ 5.7, WITI 4.3 and WDJT 3.4.

Despite NBC’s Brian Williams being suspended for questions around his earlier "coverage" of news, the peacock network’s newscast at 5:30 p.m. was the most watched in Milwaukee with a 8.1 rating. WISN and ABC was second in the race at 7.6, WITI’s local news was third at 4.4 and CBS and WDJT rounded out the timeslot with a 4.0.


WITI Fox 6 continues to dominate local news in the mornings. The team swept all time periods starting out with a 2.5 at 4:30 a.m., a 4.1 at 5 a.m. and a 5.7 for the hour starting at 6 a.m. WITI does an amazing 4 and a half hours of news each day, staying on with local coverage after the other three stations switch over to network morning shows.

Here are the morning numbers when local stations compete weekdays:

4:30 a.m.: WITI 2.5, WISN 1.8, WTMJ 0.9, WDJT 0.4.

5 a.m.: WITI 4.1, WISN 2.7, WTMJ 1.7, WDJT 0.6.

6 a.m.: WITI 5.7, WISH 5.0, WTMJ 2.9, WDJT 1.1.


The 10 p.m. news race is a different story, and one that has not been consistent with winners through the past few sweeps periods. One thing to remember is that at this time last year WTMJ and NBC had Olympics coverage. That meant at 10 p.m., WDJT, WISN and WITI were competing against athletic contests, feature stories and medal ceremonies and WTMJ’s newscast would start later in the evening.

This year, WITI emerged as the winner with a weekday rating of 6.7. WISN was second with 5.6, WDJT was next at 5.1 and WTMJ had a 4.7.

WITI uses its 9 p.m. newscast – one of two stations with local news on at that time – as a lead in for the 10 p.m. winner. That means, for at least the past month if not longer, there was a craving for more local news coverage than there was demand for primetime shows at 9 p.m. from ABC, CBS and NBC. This is even further illustrated by WDJT's 9 p.m. weekday newscast on WMLW-TV.

It could also be a reflection that viewers have changed viewing habits, getting entertainment shows from other outlets, mobile devices and time shifting by recording shows and watching them at a more convenient time.


Keep in mind the system that is used to calculate what viewers here do, and what we spend our time watching is built on an antiquated system. It is a mix of digital equipment that measures what’s on the TV and combines it with other viewers that keep a diary and do their level best to remember what they had seen. Then those 350 to 400 households account for the viewing habits that represent somewhere between 800,000 to 900,000 of the people over the age of 12 that are living here.

We are told by Nielsen, the company that makes millions of dollars a year measuring TV and radio habits across the country, that their "math" is solid. Yet, they will never tell what the formula is that they use. More people know how to make the special sauce on a Big Mac than those who know the ratings system.

What you and I need to know as viewers is that the equation determining the winners and losers is broken. The numbers may be flawed, but it is the same broken system that everyone lives with.

Steve Kabelowsky Contributing Columnist

Media is bombarding us everywhere.

Instead of sheltering his brain from the onslaught, Steve embraces the news stories, entertainment, billboards, blogs, talk shows and everything in between.

The former writer, editor and producer in TV, radio, Web and newspapers, will be talking about what media does in our community and how it shapes who we are and what we do.