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Sweeping Changes in Several Markets

With early results from the November sweeps tallied, some new kings of the hill have emerged. Capping off a five-year climb, CBS-owned WCCO in Minneapolis-St. Paul nabbed No. 1 rankings in early-evening and late news, edging out perennial winner KARE, the NBC affiliate. Unseating an incumbent is extremely difficult in local news, where viewers are fiercely loyal to stations they've watched for years. But WCCO refocused its news with more investigative pieces, boasts top-rated syndicated fare such as The Oprah Winfrey Show and Dr. Phil, and got a boost from CBS' strong prime time.

At 10 p.m., WCCO averaged a 13.5 household rating/23 share, and KARE notched a 13.1/23. Its early-evening wins were more decisive; at 6 p.m., for instance, WCCO posted an 11/22 to KARE's 7.7/16.

Both affiliates' news programs rank among the nation's strongest. Among all stations in the top 20 markets, WCCO boasts the second-highest–rated news, and KARE claims the third. Only Post-Newsweek's WDIV, the NBC affiliate in Detroit, scored better marks: an average of 14.3/ 24. KUSA Denver ranks fourth.

WCCO has been inching up in ratings since February and finally broke through in November. “There is a palpable shift in viewer preferences happening,” says General Manager Ed Piette.

Across the country, a handful of stations are enjoying surges similar to WCCO's. In Indianapolis, LIN Television's CBS affiliate WISH nabbed its first late-news win in four years, ousting NBC station WTHR. After tying in October, WISH went the distance in November, averaging an 8.7/16 to WTHR's 8.3/15. The CBS affiliate also made gains in early evenings and mornings, although WTHR remains top-rated in those dayparts.

“CBS prime is a great gift, but you have to hold that share, and that is difficult,” says WISH General Manager Jeff White. The difference in November was the station's building on its news lead-ins. Big stories tied to the undefeated Indianapolis Colts, such as exclusive interviews with Peyton Manning's wife and head coach Tony Dungy, attracted viewers.

There is a fresh leader in news in Orlando, Fla., too. With help from ABC's Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy, Cox-owned WFTV won 11 p.m. news on a Monday-Sunday basis. (CBS affiliate WKMG won 11 p.m. Monday-Friday). WFTV dominated early mornings and evening news, doubling its competition's ratings.

In Milwaukee, ABC affiliate WISN reigns in early-evening news, following up a May victory at 5 and 6 p.m. The last time the station accomplished such a feat was in 1989. The late-news crown still belongs to longtime leader WTMJ, the NBC affiliate.

In Los Angeles, ABC-owned KABC is crowing that it's No. 1 at 11 p.m. in adults 25-54—the station's first late-news win in more than a decade. As usual, NBC's KNBC won the most households for late news.

In the seven largest markets, including L.A., stations see daily demographic ratings thanks to Nielsen's new local people meter (LPM). In those markets, sweeps are now more about bragging rights than setting prices, but the networks and syndicators still showcase their best programs then, and any changes in local ratings are still notable.

Nielsen plans to install LPMs only in the top 10 markets, so the remaining 200 markets will continue to use paper diaries to record sweeps viewing. Nielsen will release its November demographic ratings throughout December.

In Minneapolis, the next rating book is January. The news war between WCCO and KARE will look very different: KARE recently lost lead male anchor Frank Vascellaro and meteorologist Ken Barlow. Vascellaro's replacement is ex-WCBS New York anchor Mike Pomeranz, and weekend meteorologist Belinda Jensen could be called up.

Piette hopes the changes will send more viewers WCCO's way. “Because of the turmoil, there may be sampling,” he says. “But [KARE] is not going to fold up.”

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