Call it the silly Battle of the Station Slogans.
Or, to localize the title from an Oscar-nominated movie, call it "One Billboard Slogan in Western New York."
WIVB-TV (Channel 4) General Manager Dominic Mancuso isn't happy about the new billboard campaign of rival WGRZ-TV (Channel 2). The rotating Channel 2 billboard that says "WNY's News Leader: WGRZ on Your Side" apparently makes Mancuso want to shout. That's because "WNY's News Leader" is a tag line that Channel 4 has used for years.
"Some would say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but to co-opt your competitor’s well-known tag line that has been part of our on-air open for years?” Mancuso questioned in an email.
Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner saw something different than flattery.
"He/they must be going for irony with that complaint," he wrote in an email. "We say it because it is true. Had no idea they consider it one of their 'slogans.' It is on one of 16 billboards."
Now let's do a fact check before which station is No. 1 is determined during the current May sweeps, which measure viewership. I promise we won't go too deep into the rating weeds.
Heading into the sweeps, the race for news leadership is pretty close between Channels 2 and 4. Channel 7 remains deep in third place despite its considerable on-air improvements.
The April ratings period is the most recent one measured. It isn't ideal for comparisons because it is a month that many people vacation. That said, during the April ratings period, Channel 2 was ahead of Channel 4 in household ratings at 5 a.m., 6 a.m., 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. by mostly small margins.
Channel 4 won at 4:30 a.m., noon (when Channel 2 doesn't compete), 10 p.m. (when neither newscast is on its own station) and 11 p.m.
In the 25-54 age demographic that local stations consider key to advertisers, Channel 4 was surprisingly ahead at 5 a.m., 6 a.m., 10 p.m. and at 11 p.m. Channel 2 was ahead in that demo from 5 p.m. through 6:30 p.m.
Channel 4 also has newscasts without local competition at 4 p.m. on its own station and at 7 a.m., 6:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on sister station WNLO-TV. Channel 2 has an 11 a.m. newscast without competition.
If you only count newscasts in which the two stations compete, Channel 2 is ahead in households by a statistically slim margin of 40.8-40.5 rating points and Channel 4 is ahead in the 25-54 demo, 15.1-13.8.
If you add up all the household ratings on all weekday newscasts in which the stations don't compete, Channel 4 obviously will have a bigger advantage. It wins by about 10 ratings points in households and about three points in the 25-54 demo.
The conclusion: The slogan "WNY's News Leader" certainly implies being in first place in the ratings. However, nobody owns the slogan. The term "leader" also could be a subjective statement on a station's impact on the community it covers. That's the beauty of promotional slogans. They can mean different things to different people. I understand why Channel 4 is complaining, but I rate Channel 2's claim as somewhat misleading but within the bounds of promotion.