By Alan Pergament
If you are to believe the demographics for the May sweeps, then reports of the demise of Channel 4 News are greatly exaggerated.
But then again, the Channel 4 release trumpeting those demographic victories Monday is greatly exaggerated, too.
It is one ratings book and it could be an aberration.
But the results couldn't come at a better time for some Channel 4 staffers now that a new general manager, Rene LaSpina, has been hired. She isn't expected to make any personnel decisions until she gets to know the station and the area better.
The main question is whether the results will save the job of News Director Joe Schlaerth, who, according to multiple sources, is unpopular inside the newsroom and was singled out by staffers in a focus groups conducted for LIN Media several months ago. Before LaSpina was named, many insiders expected Schlaerth's job to be in jeopardy.
The staffers who should have the biggest smiles are morning co-anchors Diana Fairbanks and Jordan Williams, who have brought back Channel 4's “Wake Up” to life. In addition, meteorologist Mike Cejka, who returned to the morning after Amelia Segal left for a job in Washington, D.C., might be able to point to the ratings as an indication he never should have been bounced from the mornings.
The sweeps results also could be good news for veteran evening co-anchors Don Postles and Jacquie Walker, whose successful tenure could be under scrutiny by the new boss.
One thing is clear: The demos -- which are gleaned from viewer diaries and are important to advertisers -- create a different picture than the earlier household ratings that arrived a few weeks ago and declared Channel 2 the winner everywhere but at 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Channel 2's morning program "Daybreak" with co-anchors John Beard and Melissa Holmes was the big household winner in May. But in the age 18 through 49 demographics that the networks focus on, Channel 4 wins decisively at 5 a.m. and by the slimmest of margins at 6 a.m.
In the age 25-54 demographic that local stations focus on, Channel 4 wins by a healthy margin at 5 a.m. and Channel 2 wins narrowly at 6 a.m. The combination allows Channel 4 to claim a morning demographic victory.
At 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., Channel 2 is a big winner in households and in the 18-49 and age 25-54 demographics. However, Channel 4 wins the demos by slim margins at 6 p.m. even though Channel 2 is the household winner.
At 11 p.m., the situation is oddly reversed. Channel 4 is a big household winner as usual, but Channel 2 ties in the 18-49 demo and has the slimmest of victories in the 25-54 demo.
The situation is even stranger at 10 p.m., the first sweeps period in which Channel 2 is on a stronger station – Fox affiliate WUTV. Although its household ratings rose significantly, Channel 2 lost half of its 18-49 rating from when it was on WNYO a year ago and about 30 percent of its age 25-54 viewers. That’s so incredible that I imagine Channel 2 may question the methodology being used to measure the demographics. Meanwhile, Channel 4 saw big increases in both demos for its 10 O'Clock News on sister station WNLO-TV.
The result prompted Channel 4 to proclaim in a release that "the strength exhibited by News 4 during the sweep demonstrates the Buffalo market’s continued recognition of News 4's leadership in breaking news, severe weather coverage and impactful investigative reporting, on-air, online and on all mobile devices."
Actually, Channel 2 won in households and it also still leads when you add up all the demographic ratings in the time periods when the stations have newscasts carried on their own stations.
It is one ratings sweep period, but the demos do suggest that Channel 4 may have recovered from all of its personnel losses in recent years and that one of Channel 2's strengths now might be in the area where Channel 4 used to dominate – with older viewers.
We will find out if this is an aberration or a trend when the next big ratings period occurs in November since the July ratings period is usually viewed as less significant because of changing viewing patterns in the summer.