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Rivals Call WKMG-TV Show a Ratings Ploy

In a way, WKMG-TV Orlando, Fla., is leaving it up to God. The Post-Newsweek-owned CBS affiliate last week began airing a 20-minute weathercast titled Big Picture Weather at 11:10 p.m. but plans to air it only on Wednesdays.

Why? Local competitors say the move is really a false front that allows WKMG-TV to exclude part of its normally low-rated Wednesday-night half-hour newscast from the Nielsen averages for the station's newscasts the other nights of the week.

"If they can figure out how to get weather emergencies every Wednesday night," says WFTV(TV) News Director Bob Jordan, "then they'll have something. This is one of the most ridiculous strategies I've ever heard."

WKMG-TV General Manager Henry Maldonado acknowledged that the opportunity to drop the second Wednesday-night quarter-hour, benefits his station. It does relatively poorly on Wednesdays because WESH(TV)'s airing of Law & Order spills viewers over to that NBC affiliate's 11:00 news.

In a competitive market, WKMG-TV has been first, second and third in late news, all within the past year's ratings books.

"I don't disagree that this is a repercussion," said Maldonado of the ratings effect. "But we're not doing it just for that reason. We're not starting this during a ratings period. I legitimately believe that weather, like sports, is a franchise that defines your newscast. The Weather Channel does it for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Why can't I do it for 20 minutes?

"We could do stunts," he adds. "We've all done it. … [But] on Wednesdays, I'm dead whether I keep this in the book or out of the book."

Ratings were a bit cloudy during the first weather show. CBS's 48 Hours handed WKMG-TV's 11 p.m. news a 7.5 rating/13 share lead-in during the last quarter-hour. WKMG-TV's newscast held on to a 6.7/13 for the first quarter-hour, but Big Picture Weather dropped to a 4/9 for the rest of the half-hour. A week ago, the station's news went up during the second quarter-hour.

"I wouldn't rule out the possibility of doing a weather show, but I wouldn't do it at 11:15 at night," said WESH(TV) News Director Ed Trauschke. "Advertisers will see right through this."

Rich Melin, vice president and media director for Orlando's Cramer-Krasselt Advertising, said his company's buyers are "quite aware of this situation and will take this into consideration regarding the rates we're going to pay and the ratings we're going to accept." But he credited Maldonado as "an innovator. Henry looks at everything from the perspective of entertainment value. He's not afraid to try different things."

Nielsen's Jack Loftus concedes, "It's not unusual to see stations retitling news programs. In this case, they're putting on an entirely new program and selling it as a different program. This is perfectly within our rules."