- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

WJLA-TV (Channel 7) will introduce a new morning news team on Monday in a bid to boost ratings in an increasingly competitive and lucrative period for TV stations.
The ABC affiliate will pair reporter Andrea McCarren and Elliott Francis, an anchor for the defunct Orange County News channel in California, as hosts of "Good Morning Washington," which airs weekdays from 5 to 7 a.m.
They replace Don Hudson, who will become a general assignment and education reporter for the station. Mr. Hudson originally anchored the show with Carol Costello, who left late last year to join CNN.
Alexandra Steele, the morning weather person, and traffic specialist Mikki Scarlotta will continue to deliver their reports.
Miss McCarren and Mr. Francis also will anchor WJLA's planned noon newscast, which is scheduled to debut in the fall.
"Our goal is to re-energize the morning show, while continuing to offer viewers what they want at that time of day, which is primarily weather and traffic," said Steven D. Hammel, vice president and news director.
The station draws fewer viewers than its competitors in the weekday morning news race.
In January, it averaged a 2.2 Nielsen rating and 9 percent audience share from 6 to 7 a.m., compared with a 4.4 rating and 19 percent share for NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4), a 3.4 rating and 14 percent share for CBS station WUSA-TV (Channel 9), and a 2.5 rating and 10 percent share for Fox affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5).
Each ratings point represents 21,280 local households, while a share is the percentage of all viewers watching television who are tuned in to that station.
Weekday mornings have become the new battleground in television news. Morning news viewership has risen steadily across the country, while evening news viewership has declined, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The networks have responded by moving top stars like Diane Sawyer and Paula Zahn to their morning shows.
TV stations also have moved marquee local anchors to morning shows. In October 2000, WUSA paired veteran afternoon anchors Mike Buchanan and Andrea Roane on its morning newscast, resulting in double-digit viewership gains, according to Nielsen.
Although morning news has become more important to network-affiliated stations, most of their revenue is generated between 4 and 8 p.m., when they can program what they wish and sell the airtime themselves, according to Tom C. Wolzien, senior media analyst for the Wall Street investment management firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
News anchors remain critical to a station's ability to draw viewers and generate advertising revenue, according to Chris Tuohey, a Syracuse University broadcast journalism professor and former Cleveland TV executive.
"Anchors are like hood ornaments. Some people won't buy a car unless they see a Ford logo on it. A lot of TV viewers are loyal to their favorite anchor. That's why changing anchors is so risky," he said.
Until now, WJLA, owned by Washington banking magnate Joe L. Allbritton, has focused on improving its afternoon and evening newscasts.
Since 1999, the station has recruited anchorwoman Maureen Bunyan and weatherman Doug Hill, both formerly of WUSA, for its evening news shows. The additions have helped WJLA, the perennial fourth choice for local news in Washington, close the ratings gap with its competitors.


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