For as long as most of us can remember local NBC affiliate KTUU has dominated Anchorage TV news ratings. In 2012, however, Alaska telecommunications company GCI moved to change that announcing big plans to purchase and dramatically upgrade the CBS affiliate KTVA.
After a year of planning and getting FCC approval, in late 2013 KTVA began to change. Millions of dollars went into upgrading the news product with High Definition broadcasts, new sets, out-of-state on-air talent, and bringing in the long-time face of KTUU News John Tracy to be the architect of a plan to compete head-to-head with his old station.
By anyone’s estimation this couldn’t be a quick fix. As KTVA News Director Bert Rudman told me in an interview, “We’re clearly number two in the market, there’s lots of blue sky between our numbers.” He also explained station management understands that a reboot of this kind takes time to show up in the ratings.
Rudman said KTVA’s problem is KTUU has been so dominant for so long it’s going to take a long time for people to sample the new KTVA News products, switch viewing habits, and then remember and record that when they get a ratings book “you’re just not going to move the needle fast.” Such is the nature of a diary based ratings system.
As news consumers, Anchorageites have to be happy. KTVA News circa 2015 looks good. The graphics are sleek, the HD broadcasts are crisp and bright, and the talent has settled in. KTUU has responded with similar upgrades, and it shows as well.
The May and July 2015 sweeps mark a year and a half after the KTVA reboot, and make a good starting point to start drawing judgments on what, if any, progress KTVA is making in its quest to compete.
A few points first:
- I need to reiterate just how big the gap between the two stations began. A share point represents 1% of the people watching TV at any given time. KTUU started the May 2014 ratings period beating KTVA in all categories by anywhere from 25-50 share points. That is an almost laughably massive hole KTVA started with.
- Both current and former television news veterans I spoke with agreed that in television the May ratings are far more important than the summer ratings in July. For that reason I focus this article on the May 2014 ratings vs May 2015 ratings and will only invoke the July 2014 and July 2015 numbers as necessary.
- Primetime ratings might have affected the news ratings, but only slightly. KTUU and KTVA remained almost dead tied with KTUU staying at a 15 share and KTVA dropping slightly from a 16 share to a 14 share.
- With all due respect to the Fox and ABC affiliates KTBY and KYUR, they aren’t relevant. When they do register in the ratings, it’s just barely.
Here is what the numbers show now:
Weekday Mornings (6-7 AM)
KTVA’s morning show Daybreak seems to be the brightest spot for the station. KTUU dropped from a whopping 60 share in May of 2014 to a 42 share in May of 2015. At the same time KTVA rose from a 8 share to a 9 share in the same time period and continued to rise with a 14 share in the July ratings. That means KTUU went from a roughly 11-1 ratings advantage to a 3-1 edge. KTUU continues to be way ahead, but KTVA is moving in the right direction.
Media insiders I spoke with primarily attributed the morning show’s ratings movement to the arrival of anchor Megan Mazurek. Her perky persona and local Nikiski-girl background make her a perfect fit for morning television, and apparently a difference maker in the ratings. Rudman, however, emphasizes the team of Mazurek and James Gaddis saying “People like Megan and James, like their chemistry.”
5 PM News Weekdays (5-5:30 PM)
At 5 PM, the ratings movement is good, but slow for KTVA. KTUU stayed steady, going from a 39 share to a 38 share. KTVA went up from a 9 to an 11 share. At that rate KTVA will overtake KTUU in 2025.
6 PM News Weekdays (6-7 PM)
The news here is relatively good for both stations. KTUU went from a 26 to a 28 share. KTVA went from a 4 to a 7 share. Again, KTVA is going in the right direction, just very slowly.
Late News Weekdays (10-10:30 PM)
The best news for KTUU and worst for KTVA. At 10PM KTUU grew their audience from a 36 share to a 39 share, while KTVA went from a 13 to an 11 share.The July numbers say pretty much the same thing, so this isn’t an anomaly. It looks like KTVA has some work to do here.
On weekends from 5-7 PM KTUU went up about 5 share points, from 32 to 37 both days. KTVA was flat, receiving a 7 to 9 share both days for both ratings periods.
Evening weekend news wasn’t good for either station. KTUU dropped from a 37 to a 27 share on Saturday and from a 30 to a 27 on Sunday. On Saturday, KTVA went up slightly from a 9 to an 11 share, but lost ratings on their one highly rated news show of the week, Sunday nights. They went from a 20 to a 13 share. Ouch.
This drop is likely why they brought John Tracy out of on-camera retirement to do a weekly segment on the Sunday evening news. Rudman said they did market research and found that “after 7 years off the air John Tracy is still the 5th most liked TV personality in the market.” Rudman also said they felt they were wasting an opportunity by not using him at some level on the air. That could be just the boost KTVA needs on Sunday nights.
KTUU remains the dominate TV news outlet in the state, but is taking the increased investment in KTVA seriously and making changes to stay ahead. KTVA is moving in the right direction, but very slowly, with the numbers are just now starting to move. They appear to have found a winning formula in their morning show, but need to do something to get traction on Sunday and weekday late nights.
The next year of ratings will be critical for GCI to gauge if they are on the right track or need to shake things up again to see KTVA become, or even seriously vie for, the top spot in TV news.
KTUU News Director Tracy Sabo was contacted for comment but calls were not returned