As a rule, the summer isn’t that important in the local TV news competition.
That’s primarily because viewing patterns differ when children and college students are out of school and the weather gets warmer and nicer. That generally means more people are outdoors, away from their TV sets.
However, the Nielsen ratings can offer a hint of what might happen in the fall and determine if some programming moves are working.
The ratings for June certainly gave Channel 4 some reason for optimism for its newest newscast at 4 p.m.
The newscast anchored by Christy Kern averaged a 3.3 household rating in June, up 10 percent from a year ago when the station carried “Inside Edition” and a repeat of “Jeopardy.” It was within 0.3 of Channel 2’s “Ellen” (3.6) in the time period. Channel 7's "Hot Bench" averaged a 2.4 at 4 p.m., up from a 1.6 a year ago.
At first glance, Channel 4's rating at 4 p.m. is a strong answer to skeptics like me who doubted there would be enough news to fill another hour of news.
But there are a couple of asterisks to go with its success.
This June was loaded with big news nationally and locally. “Ellen” also is in its usual pattern of summer repeats.
However, the 4 p.m. rating is still a positive sign and the newscast doesn’t appear to have cost the station any viewers at 5 p.m., one potential problem. Channel 4 only lost 0.1 ratings points in households at 5 p.m. compared to a year ago, while first-place Channel 2 almost dropped two points. Channel 2’s lead at 5 p.m. was 6.9-6.1 over Channel 4 this June, compared to 8.7-6.2 a year ago. Channel 7 is the same 3.3 this June, the only station not to experience a decline at 5 p.m.
Channel 4 also won in households at 6 p.m. for the third time in five months, though the margin is so slight it is a statistical tie. Channel 4 won, 8.1-8.0. Once again, Channel 7 was the only station that didn’t experience a decline. It had a 4.1 rating, up from a 3.9 a year ago.
As nice as household victories, the money is in the demographics that advertisers covet and it will take a week or more to discover whether Channel 4 has made any inroads with the 25-54 demo that is most important to local news.
In May, Channel 2 won that demo at 6 p.m. over Channel 4 decisively, 3.2-2.3.
Demographic victories are more important than household wins. But Channel 2 still has reason for concern as many of its newscasts have experienced percentage declines in household ratings of double digits.
Channel 7’s recovery continues to be slow but steady. It has to be most happy with the results at 6 a.m. It remains a poor third in the morning news race won by Channel 2, but Channel 7 gained a full point from a year ago to a 2.5 rating. Channel 2’s “Daybreak” wins with a 5.9 to a 4.6 for Channel 4’s “Wake Up!” and a 2.5 for Channel 7. A year ago, “Daybreak” won with a 6.1, to a 4.5 for Channel 4 and a 1.5 for Channel 7.
Channel 7 also has the potential to get a slight morning boost in two weeks when it becomes the last news station in town to start a 4:30 a.m. newscast.