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Capital Improvements

In the nation’s capital, local broadcasters are adjusting to a new type of administration: Nielsen Media Research’s local-people-meter (LPM) ratings system. Washington converted to the electronic system, which reports daily demographic data, in June, and November marks the first major sweeps month with the LPMs.

The results are being received cautiously. In the past six months, the market “has had to reset itself,” says WRC President/General Manager Michael Jack. “We are beginning to see some consistency in the numbers.”

As in other LPM markets, local broadcasters have seen ratings drop while cable viewership increases. But one positive is that they no longer have to wait until mid December, when the sweeps diaries come out, to track their November performance.

But the reams of LPM data can be jarring. “People have a tendency to overreact to days’ worth of data,” says Duffy Dyer, general manager of WTTG and WDCA. “We should look at weekly and monthly trends.”

Every rating point matters. Four D.C. stations broadcast local news in 13 time periods, including unusual slots: NBC owned-and-operated WRC has a 10 a.m. newscast, and CBS outlet WUSA has one at 7 p.m. ABC affiliate WJLA also runs a 24/7 cable news network, News Channel 8, available to 1.2 million area homes. “Washington is a town of news junkies,” says WJLA President Fred Ryan.

To stand out, local broadcasters have been tweaking their talent lineups. Fox affiliate WTTG recently poached former Good Morning America weathercaster Tony Perkins, and WJLA lured ex-CNN anchor Leon Harris to headline its 5 and 11 p.m. news. It also hired meteorologist Doug Hill and anchor Gordon Peterson away from cross-town rivals. Last fall, WUSA introduced an 11 p.m. anchor duo, Tracey Neale and Todd McDermott. WRC’s latest addition is morning anchor Shannon Bream.

With just two nights left in November sweeps, WRC was winning all major newscasts in household ratings. In May, the station won early-morning, 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news, but, for the first time in 10 years, WJLA grabbed 5 p.m.

Area stations grossed $533 million last year, according to BIA Financial, up from $492.9 million in 2003. WRC led with $129.9 million, followed by WJLA at $111.4 million and WTTG at $109.8 million.

The market is more than just government, say station execs. “We have a separate business community and strong technology center,” says WJLA’s Ryan. “It creates a multidimensional economy.”

Next: Birmingham, Ala.