- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Two local television stations are claiming to have the most-watched 5 p.m. newscast on weekdays. Depending upon your point of view, both are correct.

Welcome to the weird world of TV ratings.

For years, local broadcasters have sliced and diced the ratings to fit their promotional needs — “We’re No. 1 among brunettes in Kensington” — but that isn’t the case here.

Instead, two stations are claiming to draw the most viewers overall at the same time.

WJLA-TV (Channel 7), the Washington area’s once-beleaguered ABC affiliate, scored a rare ratings victory this past spring: Its weekday 5 p.m. newscast was the most-watched program in its time slot in May.

Thanks to a boost from a resurgent “Oprah Winfrey Show,” which WJLA airs weekdays at 4 p.m., an average 135,000 households watched the station’s 5 p.m. local news show in May — about 10,000 more than the news on NBC station WRC-TV (Channel 4), according to Nielsen Media Research Inc.

This was the first time in six years that a WJLA newscast had won its time slot.

And what a sweet victory it was. The 5 p.m. race is the most competitive in the Washington area because it is the only afternoon or evening time period when the region’s top four broadcasters — WRC, WJLA, Fox station WTTG-TV (Channel 5) and CBS affiliate WUSA-TV (Channel 9) — air local news.

So, to the surprise of absolutely no one, WJLA seized the opportunity to toot its own horn.

It began airing promos that declared its 5 p.m. broadcast the most-watched show.

It plastered the faces of its 5 p.m. news team — anchors Leon Harris and Kathleen Matthews, meteorologist Doug Hill and sports anchor Tim Brant — on the back of Metrobuses across the region.

It even wrapped a 75-foot Metro car in an ad that moved along the Red Line for a month.

And then summer came.

And everything changed.

The results for the June ratings period showed WRC recaptured the lead at 5 p.m. WRC was No. 1 at 5 p.m. in July, too.

And so now the NBC station is airing promos touting its newscasts — including its 5 p.m. show, anchored by Susan Kidd and Wendy Rieger — as the most-watched in town.

But WJLA is still running its we’re-No.-1 promos.

What gives?

After the May ratings period, Nielsen switched to a new measurement system called local people meters (LPM) that broadcasters have criticized as being inaccurate.

In other words, as WJLA sees it, May was the last month that accurate ratings were available, meaning it thinks it is No. 1 at 5 p.m. until proven otherwise.

“The last undisputed Nielsen measurement was in May, and that showed us as the most-watched station at 5 p.m.,” said Frederick J. Ryan Jr., president of WJLA’s parent, Allbritton Communications Co.

“Until the people meters have worked out their inaccuracies, we think what we’re saying [in the promos] is accurate,” he said.

A WJLA spokeswoman pointed out that the station’s promos include fine print that states the source of its ratings claim as May data. Future ads also will carry the fine print, she said.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com

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