Mobile TV stations are trying to get used to the new world of ratings measurement as code reader methodology has been put in place in this market by Nielsen, the company that monitors television ratings nationwide.

Implemented in February, the code readers are replacing the manual logbooks that have been used for decades. But with technology comes change, and some station managers are expecting to see ratings change once the system officially goes online for the October sweeps period.

Previously, Nielsen households had a logbook in which household members were expected to write down what they watched. Critics have long suggested that method wasn’t terribly accurate as it didn’t account for channel surfing, and the demographic of those keeping the logbooks tended to be older.

The system being used in Mobile actually picks up codes broadcast on roughly 500 different shows in the market. It makes it possible to pick up on how long people are watching a show and when or if they change channels.

While the actual ratings determination gets a bit more complex — involving not only the 500 or so readers in the Mobile market, but also comparing them with readers across the region to develop an overall look at households — station managers who are getting initial data say they’re already seeing some changes.

“I am still reviewing the initial ‘impact data’ received from Nielsen, which utilizes the new code reader methodology. We have received the February and May numbers with July coming out soon. The initial numbers vary with regard to favorability for WKRG,” said WKRG General Manager Mark Bunting. “From my initial glance at the numbers, it seems the lower-rated stations have seen less movement either up or down than those stations with higher ratings. Overall, as far as I can tell, there is not too much change in station rank. There are some numbers which are certain to be of concern for each station in this market. That said, I am confident Nielsen will make the necessary adjustments in their overall methodology to insure each television station is rated correctly.”

Bobby Totsch, GM for WPMI and market manager for Mobile/Pensacola, which includes WEAR, feels the new system may have some benefits for stations that have not been traditional ratings winners, such as WPMI. As WEAR is essentially the only game in town when it comes to local news in Pensacola, WPMI is a newer station and also had a network affiliation change a few years into its existence.

“We feel confident that WPMI Local 15 will have a great chance to gain traction in the Mobile news market,” Totsch said. “All local news ratings will be affected with the advent of the real time code reader measurement versus the antiquated diary system that rewards legacy stations. As has been documented over the years, diaries are typically filled out and returned by a very small segmented audience that simply does NOT represent the population/demographics in any marketplace.”

Totsch said what stations are seeing now will give them opportunities to make adjustments before October, so even though stations may be seeing some preliminary numbers that concern them, the early numbers are not indicative of what the stations might see when the system goes live for the October ratings sweeps. Still, overall he thinks the biggest thing stations need to remember is the metering will only be good for stations with strong news broadcasts.

“The game has changed, and this methodology will surely represent a ‘what have you done for me lately’ accountability, or at least it’s designed that way. Digital and social media assets also play into this new identity for local audiences and stations ratings. The diary system basically rewarded a station before a rating book even starts. The new system, while not perfect, blends a real-time local code reader sampling with regional viewing habits. Local news stations will have to fight harder for viewers than ever before, and ultimately that should benefit our viewers,” Totsch said.

WALA adding weekend morning news
Those looking for a little local flavor on Saturday and Sunday mornings will be happy to know WALA FOX10 announced plans to produce two new weekend newscasts.

“We recognized a day part that was underserved locally and saw it as an opportunity to expand the reach of our news brand. We have a very successful weekday morning news operation and we expect to continue that tradition on Saturday and Sunday,” said WALA General Manager Gary Yoder.

The new broadcasts will air both mornings from 6-8 a.m. and will feature news, updated weather and live reports from local events. Candace Murphy and meteorologist Matt Barrentine will anchor the broadcasts.

“We are excited to launch these new newscasts. Not only will they keep viewers up to date every Saturday and Sunday morning, they will also meet an important need for our advertisers and partners,” Yoder said. “FOX10 News is committed to covering our community in any way that is relevant to our viewers. These new newscasts will help us meet that commitment.”

News Director Scott Flannigan added that the additional broadcasts will help viewers prepare for their weekends while also staying informed.

“Our weather forecasts will be focused on how the weather could impact weekend plans. We’ll also report from community events that viewers may want to enjoy over the weekend,” he said.

Yoder explained the move is one that is part of a national move by stations to find interesting ways to expand what they’re doing.

“Due to programming availability and audience preferences, local stations across the country have to be very creative when identifying areas for growth,” Yoder said. “In the last few years we’ve expanded our morning news by 90 minutes, launched a 4 p.m. newscast and now added weekend morning news — and we’re not done yet!”

 While Sunday mornings have typically been the domain of politically themed public affairs shows, Flannigan says the broadcasts won’t take on that tone, although they will cover politics thoroughly.

“As with any of our newscasts, we will search for the most current and relevant information for our viewers,” he said. “Political news will be a large part of what we do in this industry for the next 15 months. At FOX10, we are committed to our viewers. If that’s weather or breaking news or politics or investigative journalism, that’s where we’ll be.”

Edited 2:05 p.m. Aug. 13 to clarify Bobby Totsch’s position as market manager for Mobile/Pensacola. He is not GM of WEAR as was originally reported.