The Winter of Our Discontent… But Not for Local News

It’s been a long winter for those of us in the Northeast, and as of the writing of this blog, it still isn’t over. But there are some people who should be dancing in the streets (okay, given the snow and ice, perhaps they should just walk briskly, but carefully). The happy people should be the local newscasters. Let’s take a look at Boston, which was really whacked by Jack Frost. The dark teal line in the graph below shows the average rating for all the broadcast Monday through Friday daily newscasts in the Boston local market from Jan. 2 through Feb. 19. The light orange line shows the inches of snow and rain Beantown received each day. It doesn’t take a statistician to see that when the snow comes down, the ratings go up. (The weather data can be found here.) Winter of Our Discontent Blog Image 1 A little bit of statistics shows that as the Sox fans continued to suffer (in terms of the weather, not the team), they started watching the news a bit more. The dotted line shows an underlying trend of increased news viewership. The increasing trend in viewership is statistically significant, though not strong. Winter of Our Discontent Blog Image 2 When I combined the overall trend of increased news viewing with the specific amounts of snow and precipitation, I got a very strong model that predicts how snowbound Bostonians turned to their local TV news to learn of the next horrors that were set to “rain down” on them. The model is shown below, with the model being the green line and the actual ratings the dark teal line. Winter of Our Discontent Blog Image 3 The news that local news is a strong “go-to” source is actually old news. I talked about it in an earlier blog on the weather’s impact on news during droughts: “Having a Heat Wave” So neither rain, nor snow, nor heat of day will keep the newscaster from his or her appointed rounds, and the viewers from watching local news.

In case you don’t know, I am Bruce Goerlich, Chief Research Officer at Rentrak, the global standard in movie measurement and your TV Everywhere measurement and research company. I have been in the research end of the marketing business for more than 30 years primarily on the ad agency side, with my last stint prior to Rentrak in the role of President, Strategic Resources Zenith Optimedia North America. Somewhere along the way I morphed from young Turk to old fogey. Now that I have grey hair and am horizontally-challenged, I can speak with some authority on advertising and research issues – which I will do from time-to-time on this blog.

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Local TV News: The Solid Medium

I love new electronic toys. They make life easier. Last week, some of my staff members were giving me weird looks as I spoke my IMs. That is, I used the Google voice function on my Droid to write out an instant message rather than typing it. If you ever get any of my text messages, you would know why I like to be able to not use my heavy-handed thumbs to punch out my missives.

But I wonder if the media technologist in all of you (and in me) can become too in love with technology and not recognize the solid delivery that traditional media can provide. Take local news, for example. Traditionally, in the 156 markets that are served by a diary sample issued four times a year, the value of local news can be misunderstood, because it isn’t measured well. First off, numbers bounce all over the place and secondly, there aren’t many numbers at all. The nice thing about the return path data that Rentrak employs is the continuous and large footprint. This means stability and granularity.

Take Rochester, New York, a local market that is in the top 80, where Rentrak has approximately 12,000 homes reporting every day. If we look at the first quarter of this year, for the daily household ratings for Monday through Friday news, we see a very stable pattern across the entire quarter for two local stations. In fact, both the high rated and lower rated stations shown below have the same very low level of statistical variation of <10%. (The coefficient of variation—email me and I’ll explain it.)

Daily M-F News at 6 Chart

And that stability isn’t just something that happened in one quarter. Look at the same quarter in 2012. The rating levels of the two stations have the same stability, and are very close to what they achieved in 2013.

News at 6 Chart

This continuous, solid delivery is not to be taken lightly. Media plans for core targets (of which there are many—I use toilet paper and I hope you do, too) need a strong base from which to build. Local news isn’t a bad place to start from a reach perspective. They provide large audiences, without much duplication between them. The interesting thing is, the news programs do move in tandem, when there are big (or small) news stories, the stations’ ratings track each other as shown below.

Daily M-F News at 6 Chart

Local news can also deliver narrower segments, including online buyers. Rentrak has merged its viewing data with MasterCard’s purchase segments. And, as seen below, a news series can perform well (or at average) in broad categories like grocery shopping and fine dining, and can index higher for Black Friday shopping both on and offline, as well as for very high spenders for Holiday shopping. Something to remember at this time of year.

Index of Top Spending by MasterCard Categories Chart

So, the relatively low-tech medium of local news delivers a substantial audience day in and day out, provides reach, reflects what is (or isn’t) interesting to the local community, and can deliver traditional, and online buyers. I believe that solid delivery can help form the broad base of a media strategy.

Now back to the toys!

In case you don’t know, I am Bruce Goerlich, Chief Research Officer at Rentrak, the global standard in movie measurement and your TV Everywhere measurement and research company. I have been in the research end of the marketing business for more than 30 years primarily on the ad agency side, with my last stint prior to Rentrak in the role of President, Strategic Resources Zenith Optimedia North America. Somewhere along the way I morphed from young Turk to old fogey. Now that I have grey hair and am horizontally-challenged, I can speak with some authority on advertising and research issues – which I will do from time-to-time on this blog.