Pittsburgh TV News Is A Tight 3-Way Race
Say what you want about places like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the most competitive local TV news market in the country may very well be Pittsburgh.
“It’s a jump ball with every newscast and with every ratings book,” says Michael Hayes, president-GM of WTAE, the Hearst-owned ABC affiliate. “In most ratings books last year, every station was No. 1 in the demo and every station was No. 3 in the demo.”
“The Pittsburgh viewer is a very discerning viewer, and if you don’t do your best every day they’ll change stations on you,” he says.
Ray Carter, VP-GM of the Cox-owned NBC affiliate WPXI, says he’s in the thick of it, too.
“It’s a roller coaster ride here,” he says. “You can be No. 1 at 5 p.m. in November and No. 3 by February. Every daypart is close, and it’s never dull.”
In fact, both men, who have worked in many markets (Hayes alone has been in eight), say they’ve never seen anything like it.
“There are a lot of competitive TV markets in the country. But I can’t imagine one more competitive than Pittsburgh,” Hayes says.
Here’s a sample of what they are talking about, all based on last November’s ratings sweeps for viewers 25-54:
CBS-owned KDKA, which for decades had been the city’s dominant station, had several victories. The station’s noon news, which earned a 2.0 rating/13 share, rated No. 1, topping WPXI’s 1.7/11 and WTAE’s 1.3/8.
The CBS O&O also rated No. 1 at 4 p.m., when its newscast, which earned a 2.5/13, beat syndicated programming on the other two affiliates — Judge Judy on WPXI earned a 2.0/12 and Dr. Oz on WTAE with a 1.1/6.
KDKA’s 5 p.m. news also rated No. 1, earning a 3.0/12. WPXI rated No. 2 with a 2.8/12 and WTAE ranked third with a 2.2/9.
KDKA runs twice as much local news as its competitors from 4 to 7 p.m. It has the only 4 p.m. newscast in the market and continues local news at 6:30 p.m., when the other two affiliates turn their time over to network news. It airs the CBS news at 7.
KDKA started that 4 p.m. newscast more than 10 years ago, long before doing so became fashionable. It has a long history of winning its time slot, even during all those years it was up against Oprah, GM Christopher Pike says.
At 6 p.m., however, the top spot went to WPXI, which earned a 3.3/12 while the other two affiliates tied for second with 2.8/10s.
NBC Nightly News, which had a 3.4/11, was the No. 1 program at 6:30 p.m., with ABC’s World News and KDKA tying for second. At 7 p.m., when KDKA airs CBS Evening News, the CBS station ranked third, while Jeopardy on WPXI and Inside Edition on WTAE tied with 3.1/10s.
At 11 p.m., KDKA won with a 3.6/10; WPXI and WTAE both earned 3.4/10.
Mornings, however, belonged to WTAE, which won at all newscasts from 4:30 to 7 a.m. The station rated particularly high at 6 a.m., with a 4.1/24, versus WPXI’s 2.9/17 and KDKA’s 2.5/14.
“There is not a lot of sunlight separating the stations,” says Rob Owen, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TV writer.
Station leaders say the competition is fueled by several factors, including the fact that all three affiliates have deep roots in Pittsburgh.
KDKA, WPXI and WTAE have all operated under the same affiliations and owners for most of their histories.
The last time one of the affiliates changed hands was in 1964, when Cox bought WPXI (then WIIC) from the two families — one of which, the Block family, also owned the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) — that put the station on the air in 1957.
That means none of them have had to overcome challenges like, say, being a newcomer to the market or upsetting viewers by changing affiliations and programming slates.
In addition, each of the stations’ news teams do exceptionally good jobs covering the news, giving viewers three viable options, the station leaders say. All are backed by owners willing to invest in the product.
The GMs also say they have longtime anchors and reporters and have worked hard to build community relations. WTAE, for example, is part of a program with Carnegie Mellon University working to get junior high kids interested in math and science.
Another phenomenon at play is that, in Pittsburgh, people watch a lot of TV.
While broadcasters in markets around the country are struggling to capture news consumers however they can — on air, online and on mobile — Pittsburgh area viewers still flock to their TV sets.
“As much as the market overall has really evolved from an older steel city to a very diverse economy that has been featured as a role model for what Rust Belt cities can do to turn themselves around, and as much as the market has diversified, there still is the loyalty to TV news,” Pike says.