It must have been hard for Valley television station managers not to let out a collective “Doh!” as they unwrapped the February Nielsen ratings reports last Thursday.
While a couple of stations posted gains for their 10 p.m. news broadcasts, “The Simpsons” on KASW-TV (Channel 61) was the big winner.
It rose more than 3 ratings points from the same month last year, up 67 percent, to become the second most-watched program in that time slot.
Is it possible that reruns of a fictional cartoon family’s antics could become the top-rated 10 p.m. show, surpassing the news, weather and sports?
“If the trends continue, it could happen,” said KASW general manager/station manager Mark Higgins.
Nielsen ratings measure how many households are watching a particular channel at a given time and are important for setting advertising rates. One ratings point is equal to 15,618 households.
KASW sister station KTVK-TV (Channel 3) saw the biggest drop by percentage in the 10 p.m. time slot, down 25.6 percent from 6.2 to 4.61. The station replaced its anchors in September 2003, but Higgins said that wasn’t a factor.
He claims the weaker numbers are because of the lead-in syndicated show, “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
He said stronger lead-in network shows such as “Joe Millionaire” and “American Idol,” both on Fox, can attract larger audiences to the following newscast.
Though KPNX-TV (Channel 12) still has the highest ratings at 10 p.m. at 10.55 for its newscast, it slipped for the second ratings period in a row. And it’s down 13.5 percent compared with last February.
The No. 2 news station in the 10 p.m. slot, KPHO-TV (Channel 5), is up 6 percent from last year. Though not as popular as “The Simpsons,” it has a 6.48 rating and shot up from the No. 5 rated 10 p.m. news show just two years ago.
“We deliver investigative news stories,” said Steve Hammel, general manager for Channel 5. “A couple years ago, we weren’t doing that as consistently as we are now. It takes viewers time to catch on to what we believe is a good product.”
Still, Hammel concedes that the total number of people tuning into 10 p.m. TV news is shrinking. “Some people have gone to cable and some people have gone to sleep — literally,” he said.
Gary McDonald of Chandler is one of those viewers. “About half the time I’m in bed by 10,” he said. He gets his news from the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer at 6 p.m., followed by local news at 7 p.m. on KAET-TV (Channel 8).
“That’s the only place you can go to and not see some bimbo talking about some fashion thing or some hideous crime going on someplace,” McDonald said. At other stations, KNXV-TV (Channel 15) remained stable, and KSAZ-TV (Channel 10) bumped up one-half a ratings point. KTVW, the Spanish-language Univision station, jumped from 2.2 to 3.24.
Two stations — Channel 5 and 12 — lost ground in the 6 p.m. time slot, while Channel 3 and 15 both gained ratings. Channel 10 doesn’t have a 6 p.m. newscast.
While Channel 15 has the lowest ratings of the five major stations at 10 p.m., general manager John Culliton said he’s not worried. “We tend to do better with younger viewers,” he said, meaning those in the 25 to 54 age group that are most attractive to advertisers.
The Tribune has a promotional relationship with Channel 15 but is not owned by the same company. Gannett owns Channel 12 and the Arizona Republic.