KUSA Channel-9 firmly on top as evening newscasts see sharp drop in latest Denver TV sweeps — The Know

A view of the 9NEWS KUSA building at 500 East Spear Blvd. on December 18, 2015, in Denver, Colorado. (Daniel Petty, The Denver Post)

Denver TV stations continued to ramp up feel-good local news programming amid steep declines in evening news viewership, with KUSA-Channel 9 again dominating the competition for the May 2018 sweeps.

For the period running April 26-May 23, Nielsen Media Research found KUSA’s weekday newscasts at 6 a.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. firmly on top — in some cases, with shares and ratings higher than all competitors combined.

However, concerning trends for the local-TV news market continued with an 11 percent overall decline in PUTS (or persons using televisions) for late newscasts — including KUSA and KDVR-Channel 31 shedding 38 percent and 31 percent, respectively, off their 10 p.m. audiences as compared with the same period in 2017. KMGH-Channel 7 also saw declines in its 4:30 a.m., 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. newscasts.

“9News continues to lead the way, but I’m kind of tired of this ‘Who’s in first, who’s in second’ focus,” said Steve Carter, KUSA general manager. “Local journalists need to stick together because we’re in this together.”

KUSA still had plenty to cheer. Its Monday-Friday newscast at 5 p.m., for example, drew a 2.15 rating and a 14.30 share, leaving its competitors in the dust. That compares with KCNC Channel-4’s 0.77 rating and 5.08 share, followed by KMGH Channel-7 (0.61 rating, 4.03 share) and KDVR Channel-31 (0.68 rating, 4.45 share).

When measuring adults 25-54, the standard TV news audience, 1 rating point in Denver equals about 16,000 viewers — or 1 percent of the total number of households with televisions. Share is the percentage of TV sets in use at a particular time.

“Next with Kyle Clark.” (Courtesy KUSA)

There’s good reason executives have lately downplayed sweeps, which measure local ratings to set future advertising rates, in favor of ongoing experiments, such as KUSA’s “9 Wants to Know”-related podcast, “Blame,” and its news-commentary show “Next with Kyle Clark.”

Local broadcast news has lost viewers industry-wide to digital streaming and over-the-top (OTT) services, making experiments like “Next with Kyle Clark” worth the resources and time it takes to find an audience.

“We’re very proud of that show, as it’s become the highest-rated newscast in the market in any time period,” Carter said of “Next,” which debuted in late 2016. “We moved that show into the evening at 9:30 on KTVD (Channel 20, also owned by KUSA parent Tegna), just so other people could discover it beyond its (KUSA) broadcast.”

KMGH-Channel 7, which enjoyed huge ratings gains in its 6 a.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts, pointed to the strength of in-house local brands as contributing factors to its success, including its “360” stories, “Our Colorado” and “Contact 7.”

“The ‘Our Colorado’ stories are laser-focused on growth and the impact it is having on all of our communities and the people who live here, whether they’re natives or newcomers,” said Holly Gauntt, news director at KMGH, via email.

However, “the declining PUTS in local news are concerning in Denver and across the country,” she said. “It certainly points to the importance of us providing really strong content on our digital and OTT platforms. People are consuming our product in so many different ways.”

For KCNC Channel-4, Denver’s CBS affiliate that led in overall primetime ratings with shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “NCIS,” winning back viewers fed up with politics and crime reporting has been a top priority.

KCNC anchor Karen Leigh, whose new weekly show “Together with Karen Leigh” (6:30 p.m. Fridays) premiered on May 4. (Provided by KCNC)

“Last summer we started throwing around some ideas of how we wanted to do a better job of connecting, and what came out of that was our ‘Colorado First’ idea,” said KCNC anchor Karen Leigh, whose new weekly show “Together with Karen Leigh” (6:30 p.m. Fridays) premiered on May 4. “Shows like ’60 Minutes’ or ‘CBS This Morning’ have a nice mix of stories, and that’s why those shows are successful. It’s kind of crazy it’s taken us this long to take hold of that. We pigeonholed ourselves in the past, and I think now we’re tired of complaining and we’re trying to be more solution-oriented.”

But will “Together with Karen Leigh” — or any of these other proactive, family-friendly shows — catch on the way “Next with Kyle Clark” eventually did?

“How long it’s going to last is really up to the viewers,” Leigh said. “Tim Weiland (KCNC news director) and Walt DeHaven (general manager) are embracing this because it’s really their baby. Being in the business for a long time you can get stuck in your ways, and shows like this give a reason to get excited, freshen things up and get some breathing room.”

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